Jaipur: Actor Salman Khan won a major reprieve with the Rajasthan High Court on Monday acquitting him in two 18-year-old cases involving the shooting and killing of chinkaras (Indian gazelle), an endangered animal protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
Salman had filed an appeal in the High Court after the sessions court failed to provide him any relief against the trial court’s decision sentencing him to one year’s and five years’ imprisonment in two separate cases of killing chinkaras.
Salman’s sister Alvira was present in court when Justice Nirmaljit Kaur cleared him in both cases, dismissing three petitions filed by the state government seeking an increase in his sentence.
Seven months ago the Mumbai High Court had overturned the trial court’s verdict and had acquitted him of all criminal charges in the hit-and-run case in which he had been accused of running over a labourer sleeping on a sidewalk in Bandra in 2002.
“The honourable high court has not agreed with the prosecution evidence or its documents in both the cases. When the court asked for the bullets that were recovered, it was proved that they were not fired from that gun,” said Mr Hasthimal Saraswat, one of the defence counsels.
The HC also found merit in defence counsel Mahesh Bora’s contention that Salman had been falsely implicated in these cases merely on the statements of key witness Harish Dulani, the driver of the vehicle allegedly used in both cases.
Pellets were planted, argues Counsel
Defence counsel Mahesh Bora argued that Mr Harish Dulani, the driver, had never been available to them for cross-examination and hence his statements could not be relied upon to convict Khan. He also argued that both cases had been built on circumstantial evidence and there was no witness or any material evidence against Salman.
The defence also argued that the pellets had been planted since they were not found in the vehicle during the forest department’s inspection but were surprisingly found by the police later. It also argued that Salman was not in possession of the weapons allegedly used to poach the gazelles and had been brought to Jodhpur from Mumbai only on demand by the forest department.
What also weakened the prosecution’s case was that 10 of a total 12 accused had already received the benefit of doubt. The prosecution had no satisfactory answer to why the state government had not filed appeals to make these people accused once again, as it did in the case of the 11th accused, Mr Gordhan Singh, but all the while insisted on harsher punishment for Salman.
However, the actor is not out of the woods yet. There are two other ongoing cases against him in court in Jodhpur, one under the Arms Act and another for allegedly poaching a blackbuck in Kakani village.
Two separate cases were registered against Salman under section 51 of Wildlife Protection Act for poaching of two chinkaras in village Bhawad on 26-27 September, 1998 and one chinkara in Mathania (Ghoda Farm) on 28-29 September, 1998
The trial court had convicted him in both the cases sentencing him to one year and 5 year imprisonment on February 17, 2006 and April 10, 2006 respectively
The convictions were challenged by Khan in the sessions court, which dismissed appeal in Mathanias case and transferred appeal to high court in Bhawads case, where already two appeals by the state government had been pending