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Salman, who was present in court with his sisters Alvira and Arpita, spent the night in Jodhpur central jail, where he was taken soon after the verdict was pronounced.
Salman’s co-stars Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre, who allegedly accompanied him on the hunt on the night of October 1-2, 1998, were given the benefit of doubt and acquitted. All of them were camping in Jodhpur at that time for the shooting of “Hum Saath Saath Hain”.
“Khan is a film star whose actions are followed by the common man and still he shot dead two innocent and mute blackbucks, a Schedule-I animal under the Wildlife Protection Act, so he cannot be granted benefit under the Probation of Offenders Act as sought by the defence,” chief judicial magistrate (Jodhpur Rural) Dev Kumar Khatri wrote in the 201-page judgment.
Salman’s lawyer H M Saraswat swiftly filed a bail application in the sessions court, on the same premises. The plea would be heard on Friday. Saraswat said an appeal against the conviction too will be filed soon after going through the verdict.
The defence lawyer had pleaded for leniency for Salman under the Probation of Offenders Act. But the judge denied any benefit, saying cases of illegal hunting were on the rise. The court found Khan guilty under Section 9/51 of the Wildlife Protection Act and also imposed a penalty of Rs 10,000. This was the third poaching case against Salman during the “Hum Saath Saath Hain” shoot. Lower courts convicted him in two other cases but he was subsequently acquitted by the HC.
The Rajasthan government had appealed against Salman’s previous acquittals and two cases are pending in the SC since October 2016.
Apart from his four co-stars, another co-accused, Dushyant Singh, a local travel and transport agent who was allegedly with them when the crime was committed, was also acquitted in the Kankani case.
Anand Desai, another lawyer of the star, said in a statement: “It (the verdict) just came as a surprise, as the entire investigation and facts were the same as those for which Salman had been acquitted by the HC of Rajasthan.”
While acquitting Salman’s co-accused, the judge said though their presence at the crime scene has been shown in the statements of witnesses, their involvement in the crime has not been established beyond doubt. The prosecution said it would appeal against all acquittals.
Youths from the Bishnoi community and wildlife lovers who had gathered outside the court burst crackers as soon as they learned about Salman’s conviction. Mahipal Bishnoi, lawyer for the Bishnoi Tiger Force, an organisation known for protecting blackbucks even at the cost of their lives, said: “We are happy that Khan has been sentenced, but we will ask the government to appeal against those who have been acquitted in this case.”
Public prosecutor Bhawani Singh Bhati said statements of witness Chhogaram, DNA fingerprinting and postmortem reports of blackbucks helped nail Salman.