A Jodhpur court on Thursday convicted Bollywood actor Salman Khan in the infamous blackbuck poaching case of 1998. The other accused - actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre - were acquitted by the court.
Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri pronounced the verdict in the 20-year-old case. The quantum of sentence will reportedly be announced later today. Salman Khan could be looking at a six-year jail term, which is the maximum punishment under the sections of the Wildlife Protection Act he is charged under.
The film stars were accused of poaching blackbucks in Kankani village near Jodhpur on October 1-2, 1998, during the shooting of Bollywood film Hum Saath Saath Hain.
The final arguments in the case were completed in a Jodhpur rural court on March 28. Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri had reserved the judgment for April 5 thereafter.
Apart from the actors, travel agent Dushyant Singh and Dinesh Gawre were also accused in the case. The latter was Salman's assistant at the time and is said to be on the run. The trial against only the other six had been completed.
The accused were charged with hunting and killing two blackbucks, which are protected animals under the Wildlife Protection Act. The deer were allegedly poached near a village of Bishnois, a community which is known for revering and protecting the blackbuck.
The villagers had come out of their homes hearing the gunshots on that night in 1998, and allegedly saw the actors fleeing in a jeep, and the deer carcass on the ground.
Salman Khan was booked under section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act and the other actors also faced charges under the same section. However, read with section 149 of the IPC, they were also charged with unlawful assembly.
Salman Khan was also slapped with four cases of poaching and one charge under the Arms Act in Jodhpur in September-October 1998. His lawyers however, claimed that there was no forensic evidence to show that the deer were hunted with guns and died.
However, according to Public Prosecutor Bhawani Singh Bhati, "All of them were in a gypsy car that night, with Salman Khan in the driving seat. He, on spotting a herd of blackbucks, shot at and killed two of them. But on being spotted and chased, they fled from the spot leaving the dead animals there."
Meanwhile, a video clipping of Saif getting annoyed over media questions over the blackbuck case has gone viral. The actor arrived in Jodhpur for the verdict on Tuesday, and when the media questioned him, he said to his driver, “Sheehsa upar karo aur reverse kar lo varna padegi ek (close windowpane, put car in reverse or else you will get it)”.
A fan reportedly misbehaved with Tabu while she was coming out of the airport at Jodhpur on Wednesday morning.
(With IANS inputs)