In a big relief to Bollywood actor Salman Khan, the Rajasthan High Court acquitted the actor in two cases related to poaching of Chinkaras in Jodhpur in 1998. In acquitting the actor, the High Court overturned the trial court verdict in both the cases.
The court held that the pellets recovered from the Chinkaras were not fired from Khan’s licensed gun.
The case against the actor weakened as the driver of the jeep Khan was using during his alleged hunting mission, was missing.
Khan, 50, was jailed in 2007 for nearly a week for shooting an endangered gazelle in 1998.
The court was hearing Khan’s appeals against the sentence for two poaching related cases in Bhawad and Mathania.
Justice Nirmal Jit Kaur rejected the plea of the state government against the actor.
Two separate cases had been registered against Khan 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 Khan in both cases, sentencing him to one year and 5 year imprisonment on February 17, 2006 and April 10, 2006.
The convictions were challenged by Khan in the sessions court, which dismissed his appeal in the Mathania case and transferred appeal to the High Court in the Bhawad case, where already two appeals by the state government had been pending.
Hearing on both these petitions in the High Court had begun on November 16, 2015 and were completed on May 13, 2016, after which justice Nirmal Jit Kaur had reserved her judgement.
While arguing the case in the High Court, defence counsel Mahesh Bora had contended that Khan had been falsely framed in these cases, merely on the statements of a key witness Harish Dulani, the driver of the vehicle, which was allegedly used in poaching in both these cases.
Bora argued that Dulani was never available to them for cross examination and hence his statements could not be relied upon in conviction of Khan. He also argued that both of these cases have been built on circumstantial evidences and there was no eyewitness or any material evidence against Khan.
Besides this, the major observation by the court was that it did not find the pellets recovered from the vehicle matching with those, recovered from the possession of Khan.
Defence also strongly argued that the pellets had been planted since they were not found in the vehicle during forest department’s inspection and were found there surprisingly by the police later.
Similarly, the defence also argued that Khan was not in possession of weapons allegedly used in poaching and were brought to Jodhpur from Mumbai only on demand of the forest department.
Also, it was argued that the pellets produced belonged to air gun, which has no capacity at all to kill an animal.
In its reply, the prosecution counsel K L Thakur had argued that Dulani was present in the court twice but the defence did not examine him.
Thakur cited the statements of the co-accused, tried to prove the case by corroborating the statements of Dulani, though, some of them had turned hostile in the court later.
(With inputs from PTI)