Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, who spent the last two nights in Jodhpur Central Jail after being found guilty in a 20-year-old blackbuck poaching case, has been granted bail by a court in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur. Judge Ravindra Kumar Joshi, who began hearing his bail request this morning for the second day, announced his decision just after lunch.
The 52-year-old actor was given a jail sentence of five years for killing two blackbucks 20 years ago in Kankani village, near Jodhpur in Rajasthan, during the shooting of a multi-starrer, “Hum Saath Saath Hain“. His co-actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam Kothari and Sonal Bendre, who were in the SUV that the Dabangg star was driving during their alleged late night hunting outing, were, however, acquitted by the Jodhpur sessions court.
In the hearing today, the prosecution talked about the credibility of the witnesses and hinged the case on the post-mortem report which said that the blackbucks had gunshot wounds. However, Salman’s lawyers argued that only the bones of the animals were sent for evaluation when their skins, as crucial, weren’t. They are also asking for bail on grounds that the witnesses against him are not reliable.
Judge Joshi, who is in the middle of the annual reshuffle of judges in Rajasthan, had, on Friday, put off the hearing by a day as he wanted to go through the entire case record before making a decision. He will be replaced by Chandra Kumar Songara, district and sessions judge of Bhilwara within the next week.
On Thursday, Judge Dev Kumar Khatri had convicted Salman Khan for poaching two endangered blackbucks in 1998. The case against him was brought by members of the Bishnoi community, who revere antelopes. The community has pursued the case for almost two decades and welcomed his conviction.
In the numerous hearings over the years, the actor and his counsels insisted that he was being framed. Reports that the animals died of “overeating” or that they were killed by dogs were also submitted in court to establish his innocence.
In an interview in 2009, Salman Khan had told NDTV that he had “saved the deer” and fed it biscuits. “We saw a fawn caught in a bush. He was petrified. I took him out of there, gave him some water. The whole herd was there. (The fawn) ate a few biscuits and went away”.
The blackbuck, an endangered species, is protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Act and the punishment for hunting blackbuck can be up to six years. Salman Khan has also been accused of killing two chinkaras and a blackbuck in September 1998. In all, three cases of poaching and one under the Arms Act were registered against Salman Khan in 1998.
In July 2016, the Rajasthan High Court acquitted Salman Khan in the chinkara poaching cases. A year later, the Jodhpur court acquitted him in the Arms Case, where he was accused of possessing and using weapons with an expired licence during the hunt for the endangered chinkaras and blackbucks.
This is the actor’s fourth stint in this prison. He has spent a total of 18 days in the jail in 1998, 2006 and 2007.