Bollywood super star Salman Khan was today sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted by a court in northern Indian state of Rajasthan for killing two blackbucks, an endangered species.
However, other Bollywood actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam, also accused in the case, were acquitted by Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri in Jodhpur this morning.
A fifth person, Dushyant Singh, a local of Rajasthan, has also been acquitted.
52-year-old Salman was found guilty of killing the blackbucks, from the antelope family, in Kankani village near Jodhpur on the night of October 1, 1998 during the shooting of the film "Hum Saath Saath Hain". Blackbucks are protected by India’s Wildlife Act.
Following the quantum of sentence, Salman was taken to high-security Jodhpur central jail as posse of policemen and women kept vigil.
The punishment of five years' imprisonment announced by the trial court means Salman cannot get bail from the same court and has to move a higher court -- the sessions court -- for relief. Had the trial court pronounced less than three years in prison for the actor, Salman could have moved the same court for bail.
The case against Salman and the other actors was filed by members of the Bishnoi community who consider the antelope sacred.
Salman “Dabang” Khan has been held guilty under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act under which the maximum punishment is of six years imprisonment.
While the conviction of Salman by the trial court came this morning, the quantum of punishment was announced by Khatri at around 2:00 pm Indian time after the actor’s lawyers pleaded for a lesser sentence.
Salman, Clad in a black shirt and the other actors, some of them accompanied by their family members, were present in the courtroom when the verdict was read out.
Rampal Bhawad, state president of Bishnoi Tigers Vanya Evam Paryavaran Sanstha, said the outfit would appeal against the acquittal of Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre - in the blackbuck poaching case. Bhawad had also demanded maximum punishment of six years imprisonment for Salman Khan.
The final arguments of the case were completed in the trial court on March 28, after which Chief Khatri had reserved his judgment.
Elaborate security arrangements were made in and outside the court premises ahead of the verdict.
The other accused have been charged under Section 51 along with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code.
Earlier, Salman was convicted in one of the two separate cases filed in 2006 for killing two chinkaras and was sentenced to five years in jail. The actor spent a week in jail but the sentence was suspended by the Rajasthan High Court.
The two separate cases had been registered against the actor under section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act, for poaching of two chinkaras—one at Bhawad village, also in Rajasthan, on September 26-27, 1998, and one in Mathania area on September 28-29, 1998.
The trial court convicted Salman in both the cases, sentencing him to one year and five years in prison on February 17, 2006, and April 10, 2006, respectively.
However, these convictions were challenged by Salman in the sessions court which dismissed the appeal in the Mathania case and transferred to the Rajasthan high court the appeal in the Bhawad case. Two appeals by the Rajasthan state government challenging the sessions court’s rulings are pending in the high court.
Hearing on both these petitions in the high court were completed on May 13, 2016, after which justice Nirmal Jit Kaur reserved her judgement.
Today’s conviction creates anxiety in Bollywood. Among the forthcoming films riding on Salman are Race 3, Dabaang 3 produced by the actor’s brother Arbaaz and Kick 2.
In fact, Salman reached Jodhpur by a chartered plane from the shooting of Race 3, a film funded partly by the actor’s production house, in Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. But the remaining part of the film is yet to be shot. Apart from Salman, the film has Jacqueline Fernandez, Anil Kapoor and Bobby Deol in key roles. It is scheduled for June 15 release.
Bharat, a film by Ali Abbas Zafar who had helmed the 2017 film Tiger Zinda Hai, is another movie in the pipeline featuring Salman. The film, in which the actor will essay the role of an ordinary man is a remake of the South Korean film Ode to My Father which depicted Korean history from 1950s to the present day through the life of an ordinary man. The film is still in the pre-production stage and will only go on the floor in June 2018.