In a main setback to actor Salman Khan, a Jodhpur trial court today convicted him to 5 years in jail in the 1998 blackbuck poaching case. Other accused in the case were exonerated.
Jodhpur District Presiding Officer Devkumar Khatri pronounced Salman guilty of killing two blackbucks, which are an endangered species, on October 1, 1998 during a hunting expedition near Jodhpur, Rajasthan. A penalty of Rs 10,000 has also been levied on him.
Co-accused Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Neelam and Tabu were present in court during pronouncement of the verdict. There are two other accused in the case — travel agent Dushyant Singh and Dinesh Gawre, Salman’s assistant at the time. Gawre is still absconding.
The actors are accused of hunting down two blackbucks in Kankani village near Jodhpur on the intervening night of October 1 and 2, 1998. The actors were in the city for the shooting of the film ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’.
Salman, 52, had earlier pleaded innocence in the case, claiming before the court that the blackbuck died of “natural causes” and he was being “framed”.
Salman is experiencing charges under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and the other actors have been charged under Section 51 read with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code. Maximum punishment under Section 51 is six years.
H M Saraswat, the defence counsel for Salman Khan, said there are many loopholes in the prosecution’s case and the prosecution has failed to prove the case beyond any doubt.
“Prosecution has failed to prove allegations against the accused and has engaged in tampering and fabricating evidences and documents as well as roping in fake witnesses to prove the case. It has even failed to prove that black bucks were killed by gunshots. Hence such investigation cannot be trusted upon”, Saraswat said during final arguments on March 28.
This is last of the three poaching cases against Salman from 1998 that is being heard at Jodhpur trial court. He was convicted in two poaching cases by trial court, only to be acquitted by the Rajasthan high court later.