Bollywood actor Salman Khan was convicted of poaching blackbucks in Rajasthan in 1998 under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 by a Jodhpur court on Thursday. He was sentenced to five years in jail. The other accused in the case, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre, were acquitted after getting the benefit of doubt.
Salman was found guilty of killing blackbucks in Kankani village near Jodhpur on the night of 1 October, 1998, during the shooting of the film Hum Saath Saath Hain.
The actor arrived at Jodhpur Central Jail on Thursday afternoon. He will undergo a medical examination there before being held in jail overnight. If the sentence had been less than three years, the actor could have applied for bail in the same court. However, he will now have to approach the sessions (higher) court for bail. According to CNN-News 18, Salman's bail application will be taken up at 10:30 am on Friday morning.
Preparations for holding Salman to the Jodhpur Central jail are in place, Mahipal Bishnoi, the prosecution counsel, told reporters. Salman will also incur a fine of Rs 10,000.
The actor's case was represented by defence counsel Hastimal Saraswat. The judgment was pronounced by Chief Justice Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri at a hearing attended by Salman's sisters Alvira and Arpita. The trial of the case was in progress since the last 19 years and the judge had reserved the order after the final arguments on 28 March.
Salman is likely to be housed with self-styled godman Asaram Bapu, who was sent to jail after being convicted of rape, and allegedly received preferential VIP treatment in prison. Another convict housed in the same prison is Rajsamand killer Shambhulal Regar, who, even after being jailed for murdering a Muslim labourer, was making videos from inside the jail. Other inmates include some hardened terrorists from Kashmir who were recently shifted out from Srinagar jail, as per CNN-News18. Sources in Jodhpur Central Jail confirmed that the room lacks all kinds of amenities. There is definitely no cooler or AC and it is just like other simple prison cells.
Legal recourse available to Salman
The actor's legal counsel Anand Desai issued a statement saying, "We respect the decision of the Hon'ble Court. While we are studying the judgement it just came as a surprise, as the entire investigation, and facts of this case were the same as those for which Salman has been acquitted by the Hon'ble High Court of Rajasthan in two cases, and even by the Hon'ble CJM in the Arms Act matter for the alleged offence on the very same night as is the subject matter of the present case. Also, in the present case, the Hon'ble Court has acquitted all the 5 co-accused which would imply that Salman was out hunting alone in the middle of the night in a remote area outside Jodhpur. We have preferred an appeal to the Hon'ble Sessions Court and applied for an urgent hearing today. The Hon'ble Sessions Court will hear the appeal for suspension of the sentence/ bail at 10.30 tomorrow."
The options for Salman to get out of serving prison time are limited. According to reports, the police have issued an arrest warrant for the actor and he will be taken into custody soon. However, according to News18, Salman's legal team is ready to appeal to a higher court. If the higher court accepts the appeal, to be heard on Friday, Salman might get bail and probably get back to Mumbai by Thursday.
However, the prosecution said that it is unlikely that Salman will get bail today. Speaking to News18, the prosecution lawyer said the legal team will have to work at a lightning speed if they want to ensure that the actor does not spend a night in the Jodhpur Central Jail. However, it is unlikely that Salman's legal team will be able to get a stay on the order and also manage to get bail for the actor in a couple of hours.
His counsel will have to approach the Rajasthan High Court and get the appeal cleared before the court closes for the day at 5 pm.
A fifth person, Dushyant Singh, a local from the area, has also been acquitted, said Mahipal Bishnoi, the prosecution counsel.
Salman was facing charges under Section 9/51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. All the actors were in a Gypsy car on the night of 1 October, 1998 that night, with Salman in the driving seat. He spotted a herd of blackbucks and killed two of them, the lawyer said.
The prosecution had demanded maximum punishment for the actor which is six years. However, the defence had sought minimum punishment of three years and is trying to get early probation for the actor.
Bishnois vow to continue to fight
The Bishnoi Sabha, which has been the primary complainant, in this case, has decided to appeal against the acquittal of the other four actors and said they will move a higher court.
After the incident came to light in October 1998, it was the Bishnoi villagers who registered a complaint against Salman and his four co-actors. They also registered a complaint against the Bollywood star for allegedly poaching chinkaras earlier in the same year. And when Salman was acquitted by the Rajasthan High Court in 2016 of poaching chinkaras, the Bishnois prepared to move Supreme Court. However, while that case verdict hasn't been challenged yet, the buck hasn't stopped for the community.
Reacting to the judgment, public prosecutor Bhawani Singh told CNN-News18: "We are happy with the judgment. I haven't read the complete order. Salman has been given a five-year simple imprisonment and Rs 10,000 fine. If he files an appeal and the court considers it, then he can get the bail."
The Bishnois, a prosperous and influential group residing primarily in Rajasthan, are unwilling to forget and forgive Salman for his alleged crimes, especially his acquittal in the chinkara poaching case, they were quoted as saying by The Hindu. "We respect the court's verdict, but would like the case to be taken to the highest court of appeal," Ram Nivas Budhnagar, a working committee member of the Akhil Bharatiya Bishnoi Mahasabha, had said back in 2016 following the high court's verdict.
Budhnagar, who is also the general secretary of the Bishnoi Tiger Force, an environmental protection group that had helped highlight Salman's alleged involvement in poaching, said their fight is far from over. "There was direct evidence of him violating the law. What he did was premeditated and planned, and he is a repeat offender," Bhudhnagar said.
He was further quoted as saying that the community will continue to fight for justice. "We will get justice. We won't get defeated but will take the fight till the end."
The Bishnoi sect, which was formed by Jammeshwarji Maharaj in 1542 AD, is known for its beliefs associated with nature worship and wildlife conservation. They have been known to make many sacrifices for the protection of animals, especially the endangered blackbuck.
Blackbucks and chinkaras are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, but the Bishnois consider the former as being sacred, the incarnation of their Guru Jambeshwar. They follow what is perhaps the world's only environment-friendly religion and recognize the right of birds, animals and trees to live in peace and harmony with humans.
In 2016, over 1,700 people involved in wildlife crimes in Rajasthan were arrested due to the efforts of this community.
Bollywood in Salman's corner
"I am extremely shocked expressed his disbelief and disappointment at the verdict. I am extremely shocked to hear Salman is being convicted by the court but also having full trust in Indian Judiciary, which has many other doors to appeal for final justice... He is one of the most loved persons in the industry and people for his human reasons too," filmmaker Subash Ghai tweeted.
"I feel bad. He should be given relief. He has done a lot of humanitarian work," Jaya Bachchan, Rajya Sabha MP and former actor, said.
Meanwhile, speaking to CNN-News18, Salman's co-star in Hum Saath Saath Hain Alok Nath said that he cannot speak against the judgment. "It's a little tragic that it came after 20 years. Instead, he could have been charged a hefty fine," he said.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Apr 05, 2018 19:09:02 IST