While Bollywood star Salman Khan was convicted in the 1998 blackbuck poaching case with a 5 year jail term, Mumbai-based wildlife activists and legal eagles give mixed reactions on the verdict
Hours after the Chief Judicial Magistrate at Jodhpur sentenced Bollywood superstar Salman Khan to five-year jail term in the 1998 blackbuck poaching case, wildlife activists and legal eagles in Mumbai gave mixed reactions on the verdict and stated that order needs to be read in detail to understand how Salman Khan was singled out in the case and the others were acquitted.
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.
Other actors in the case including Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam Kothari have been acquitted. Salman had to spend the night in Jodhpur Jail as his bail hearing in Sessions Court has been posted for today. The Bishnoi Sabha, a community committed to protect the blackbucks, has decided to appeal against the other acquittals. Salman Khan was accused of killing two blackbucks in Bhagoda ki Dhani in Kankani village near Jodhpur on the intervening night of October 1-2, 1998, during the shooting of the film 'Hum Saath Saath Hain'. He has been convicted under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, which carries maximum punishment of six years and minimum one-year jail term.
The other actors were charged under Section 51 read with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code.
According to Sunish Kunju, Honorary Wildlife Warden, Mumbai who also heads NGO, Plants Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) said, “This verdict will serve as a deterrent to all those high profile people who think that they can get away with smaller punishments in cases of wildlife crimes. People often tend to think that killing any animal in the name of fun, is something does not attract any punishment. Hence, this verdict has come as a welcome relief for several wildlife activists who fight for animals, especially those who are facing extinction in the wild. However, the court should have given punishment to the other accused too. The investigating agency may have not found any evidences to link other accused to this case. Still, if they were also convicted, it would have made more impact.”
Speaking to the ADC, senior criminal lawyer Majeed Memon said, “A case of this nature takes two decades in our country, this itself is an assertion that justice has been delayed and justice denied, making victims, offenders as well as the civil society losers. There is so much noise around the conviction of Salman Khan, just because he is a celebrity, while hundreds of convictions take place everyday. The state has spent so much money on this case over the years that even if there is finally a conviction, it is not an achievement.”
Senior lawyer Pradeep Patil said, “An order of conviction can never be a matter of discussion or opinion. Whatever the court decides is based on evidence laid before it, by the prosecution. In our criminal justice system, evidence should be beyond all reasonable doubt. When the court is convinced that evidence is within four corners of law, the result is conviction.”
Noted criminal lawyer Prakash Shetty, “I do not think media attention has affected the trail. The conviction is not a discretionary order like a bail. It has been passed after evaluation of evidence, which has to be beyond doubt and towards the guilt of the accused.”
PETA India CEO and large animal vet, Dr. Manilal Valliyate said, “The guilty verdict shows, whether you are Salman Khan or an ordinary citizen, the facts will be heard by a court and the law will ultimately prevail. It is highly unusual for a wildlife case to drag on like this, today wildlife crimes and being commonly fast tracked, and so what others can be sure of is, if they commit a crime against an animal, they will be booked. When PETA India is involved, we will always push for a maximum penalty. Black bucks and chinkaras are endangered and considered extremely vulnerable. But all animals who are hunted, suffer immensely. Quick kills are rare, and many animals who are shot suffer prolonged, painful deaths. Hunters often severely injure but fail to kill them, and the animals run away and die later slowly of blood loss, gangrene or starvation. Hunting rips animal families apart and leaves countless animals orphaned when mother animals are killed. Being truly human means being kind to all animals. As far as the other stars getting acquitted, perhaps they too were guilty and that was for the court to decide, and if they are guilty, we hope that too will be set right. But their acquittal does not mean Salman should be allowed to get away.”
Bishnois: A community which fought for wildlife conservation
After the alleged poaching incident came to light in October 1998, it was the Bishnoi villagers who registered a complaint against Salman and his four co-actors. They also registered a complaint against the Bollywood star for allegedly poaching chinkaras earlier in the same year. And when Salman was acquitted by the Rajasthan High Court in 2016 of poaching chinkaras, the Bishnois prepared to move Supreme Court. However, while that case verdict hasn't been challenged yet, the buck hasn't stopped for the community.
The Bishnois, a prosperous and influential group residing primarily in Rajasthan, are unwilling to forget and forgive Salman for his alleged crimes, especially his acquittal in the chinkara poaching case. The Bishnoi sect, which was formed by Jammeshwarji Maharaj in 1542 AD, is known for its beliefs associated with nature worship and wildlife conservation. A Bishnoi thus, will never tolerate killing of wild animals and felling of a tree. They have been known to make many sacrifices for the protection of animals, specially the endangered black buck.
Salman's lawyer issues statement, says 'we respect decision'
Salman's lawyer issued statement, "We respect the decision of the Hon'ble Court. While we are studying the judgement, it just came as a surprise, as the entire investigation, and facts of this case were the same as those for which Salman has been acquitted by the Hon'ble High Court of Rajasthan in two cases, and even by the Hon'ble CJM in the Arms Act matter for the alleged offence on the very same night as is the subject matter of the present case. Also, in the present case, the Hon'ble Court has acquitted all the five co-accused which would imply that Salman was out hunting alone in the middle of the night in a remote area outside Jodhpur. We have preferred an appeal to the Hon'ble Sessions Court and applied for an urgent hearing today. The Hon'ble Sessions Court will hear the appeal for suspension of the sentence / bail at 10.30 tomorrow."
Rs 400-600 cr riding on Salman: trade analysts
The 52-year-old actor was in the middle of shooting 'Race 3' but it is not clear whether his work is complete on the film, being directed by Remo D'Souza.
“Whatever is left of 'Race 3' will have to be completed soon because the film is releasing in June. 'Kick 2', 'Dabangg 3' and 'Bharat' were yet to start so there isn't much monetary loss. It is a huge loss to the industry and trade as he is a big star who guarantees big success,” trade analyst Komal Nahta said.
“'Race 3' has Rs. 125-150 crores riding on it. For other films, not money but may be time has gone. He has not started any other film so it isn't that films will be stuck. He may have planned it like that knowing that April 5 is the date of the judgement,” Nahta added. Trade analyst Girish Wankhede also maintains that it is a big blow to the industry as Salman has been extremely profitable as a brand with back-to-back blockbusters to his credit. “All his films make a minimum of Rs. 200 crores. Three films have already been announced. 'Race 3' is the biggest Eid release. So approximately Rs. 600 crores are riding at the box office,” he said.
According to trade analyst Amod Mehra, “There is about Rs. 400 crores riding on him, including Rs. 150 crore son 'Race 3' and signing amounts and rights of films such as 'Bharat', 'Dabangg 3', etc., and the TV show 'Dus Ka Dum' and TV commercials”.