Blackbuck poaching case: Salman Khan gets 5 years in prison, Saif Ali Khan and other actors acquitted
A Jodhpur court on Thursday sentenced Salman Khan to five years in jail for killing two blackbucks, an endangered antelope, in a 20-year-old poaching case, a stunning verdict that dealt a blow to the actor who has Rs 500 crore riding on him.
The actor was found guilty of killing the blackbucks and violating the wildlife protection act that guards the antelopes. He will spend the night in the Jodhpur Central Jail.
“A warrant has been issued in his name and he will be sent to central jail,” prosecution lawyer Mahipal Bishnoi told a scrum of mediapersons outside the court.
Snipers were positioned on rooftops and riot police deployed in large numbers to control the crowd that had gathered to catch a glimpse of Salman, who wore a black shirt, a pair of jeans and sunglasses to the court.
Chief judicial magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri acquitted fellow actors and co-accused Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam, giving them benefit of the doubt in a case that has generated a lot of interest because of the celebrities involved.
A local, Dushyant Singh, too, was let off in the case that was registered on the complaint of the Bishnoi community which reveres the nature and considers killing animals a sin. The verdict was cheered by the community.
The actor killed the animals in Kankani village on October 1, 1998, while shooting for the film Hum Saath Saath Hain .
The 52-year-old actor plans to challenge the verdict in the sessions court, which will also hear his bail plea on Friday.
His lawyer Anand Desai said they respected the verdict but were surprised.
“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,” Desai said in a statement.
The trial in the case, which has seen several twists and turns, began in May 2013, 15 years after the Bishnoi community reported the poaching on October 2, 1998. At least 28 witnesses from the prosecution side were examined.
Final arguments were completed on March 28, after which CJM Khatri reserved the judgment for Thursday.
The verdict stunned the film industry, with many colleagues saying the actor was punished because he was a successful star.
Actor-parliamentarian Jaya Bachchan said the punishment was harsh. “I feel bad. He should be given relief. He has done a lot of humanitarian work,” she told reporters outside Parliament.
Neelam’s husband, actor-director Samir Soni, said he believed Khan had been targeted for his star status. “I am happy for Neelam and the rest... I don’t know why Salman was singled out. It seems his (star) status has come in the way,” Soni said.
As per trade estimates, almost Rs 500 crore is riding on the actor, whose Race 3 is due for release on Eid in June. Work is about to begin on two more films and he also has a TV game show lined up for June.
Thursday’s conviction wasn’t Salman’s first brush with the law. In 2015, the Bombay high court overturned his conviction in a hit-and-run case. He was accused of running over a group of people sleeping on a sidewalk, killing one and injuring four.
The Rajasthan government has challenged in the Supreme Court the actor’s acquittal in two cases of chinkara poaching. The actor allegedly gunned down the gazelles a few days before he targeted the blackbucks.
(With inputs from agencies)