The Rajasthan high court acquitted Bollywood star Salman Khan on Monday in two cases of deer poaching, a huge relief for the popular but controversial actor who has had several run-ins with law in the past.
The court said the prosecution failed to prove the charges against Salman and that the evidence was too thin for convicting the actor in the nearly 18-year-old cases of killing Chinkaras or Indian gazelles.
Justice Nirmaljeet Kaur overturned two trial court verdicts that had handed the actor one and five years’ imprisonment. Salman has spent 13 days behind bars so far.
“Sometimes…there is immense pressure on the investigating agency to immediately arrest the alleged accused… Under the circumstance, the facts and evidence are sometime concocted to nail the alleged accused,” the court observed.
“In the process, either an innocent gets convicted or the real culprit gets away.”
The verdict comes seven months after the actor was cleared of all charges in a controversial 2002 hit-and-run case by the Bombay high court, triggering outrage and questions about whether the actor had used his star power to subvert the judicial system.
Chinkaras are a protected species and hunting them is banned. The actor was accused of hunting two chinkaras on September 26, 1998 in Bhawad village area of Jodhpur and another one two days later at Ghora Farm. Seven other accused in the Bhawad case were let off.
The actor was shooting for the film Hum Saath Saath Hain at that time. Two cases against Salman – black-buck hunting and possessing illegal arms – are still being tried at trial courts in the state.
The court observed that the prosecution failed to prove that a deer had even died as no carcasses were found. Moreover, the police couldn’t zero in on either the weapon used for the alleged hunt or the place where it took place.
“Salman was framed by fabricating false evidence just because he was a celebrity,” said the actor’s counsel Mahesh Bora. Counsel Nishant Bora said the high court had testified all the facts to prove Salman innocent.
In October 1998, a driver who was working with the crew of the film told local police that Salman and other members had hunted the chinkaras. A forest department investigation followed, which was later taken over by police.
The additional advocate general of the state, KL Thakur, said he would study the court orders in both cases and will then take up the decision on challenging the verdict in court.