Picture abhi baaki hai: Salman can still go to jail in black buck case
Enough has been said about the black buck that "must have killed itself", and that wants to be a cow in its next birth. Let the record be clear: Salman Khan has not been acquitted of the charge of killing two black bucks in Rajasthan in 1998. The acquittal on Monday, 25 July, pertains to charges of killing two chinkaras in two separate occassions, six and four days, before the alleged black buck killing.
Salman was in Jodhpur shooting for the blockbuster Hum Saath Saath Hain in 1998 when the incidents occurred. The black bucks were allegedly shot on the intervening night of 1 and 2 October 1998, for which the first case was filed against the actor. During investigation, a witness said that Salman had also killed chinkara on 26 and 28 September 1998, for which two separate cases were accordingly filed.
Monday's high court acquittal is for these two cases, and the black buck case is still pending with the trial court. The Rajasthan High Court judgement makes this clear:
"It would not be out of place to mention that the trial in the third case i.e. Criminal Case No.66/2011 which pertains to FIR No.93(26) of 1998 registered with the Forest Department on 02.10.1998 for hunting on intervening night of 01.10.1998 and 02.10.1998 is still pending ... FIR No.93(26) of 1998 came to be registered with the Forest Department, Jodhpur for the incident of hunting of a black buck."
Aside from this, there is no reference to the black bucks in both acquittal judgements delivered by the court on Monday.
In the black buck case, Salman is charged under Section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act (punishment for killing protected wild animals), Section 148 of Indian Penal Code (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon) and Section 27 of the Arms Act (illegal use of arms).
Although acquitted from the Arms Act charge, Salman still faces up to five years in jail if he is convicted for the Wildlife Act offence, and three years for the IPC offence. Another Arms Act case against Salman, filed at Luni police station on 15 October 1998, is also pending trial.
Yet, almost all news headlines made the mistake of referring to the black bucks while reporting his acquittal in the deer cases. This included pretty much all major newspapers, news websites and at least one news agency, causing confusion that Salman has been acquitted from all three cases.
Trial in the black buck case has been delayed compared to the chinkara killing cases, and is still pending in the trial court. The next date of hearing is 10th August, according to one of the witnesses
In fact, the deer cases, in which he has been acquitted, were always the weaker compared with the black buck case. For one, black buck is a Schedule-I species, accorded the highest protection under law.
Second, the deer cases had only one crucial witness, Harish Dulani. His disappearance and untruthful behaviour made the evidence shaky, causing the High Court to acquit Salman. In contrast, the black buck case has two strong witnesses. They are members of the Bishnoi community, who are still standing by their statements.
It was the Bishnois of Gudha Bishnoi village, near Jodhpur, who first spotted Salman driving the gypsy and according to the investigating officer and former deputy forest officer, Lalit Bora, the actor even pointed gun at the villagers before fleeing from the spot where the villagers found two carcasses with bullet holes.
In fact, Bishnois were the ones to file a complaint with the forest department about Salman's involvement. They have been fighting a legal battle for the past 18 years. They testified against the actor in the court and the involvement of others including Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre.
Interestingly, the statements of all witnesses were video recorded by Bora and will be played in the court during his cross examination on 10 August. Bora was crucial to the investigation and gathered crucial evidence linking Salman to the killings.
And, it is for this reason that Bishnois and Bora have not yet given up on this long legal battle.