Who killed the chinkaras? Salman acquitted, probe officer wonders how
- The Rajasthan HC acquitted Salman Khan in two cases of poaching chinkara - a protected species
- Earlier, a trial court had found Salman guilty, and handed him a one-year and a five-year sentence
- Lalit Bora, a former Rajasthan Forest Service officer, had investigated the cases
- He now fears that the evidence he collected in a third case, the black buck poaching case, could also be ignored by the court
- Bora\'s recollection of the events of the case
- How Bora was hounded for being tough on Salman and his fellow actors
The Rajasthan High Court on Monday acquitted actor Salman Khan in two cases of poaching chinkara - a protected species.
Earlier, a trial court had found Salman guilty of the crime, and sentenced him to a one-year term and a five-year term in prison.
The High Court acquitted the actor owing to 'a lack of conclusive evidence' linking him with two separate incidents of poaching.
One of the two chinkaras was apparently hunted at Bhawad, near Jodhpur, on 26 September 1998, while another incident was reported to have occurred at Ghoda farms two days later.
The third case that's still not over
The High Court order comes as a relief for Salman, who is still fighting a third case of poaching endangered black bucks in 1998, while shooting for Sooraj Barjatya's Hum Saath Saath Hain
While Salman and his team were ecstatic about the verdict, it is a major setback for Lalit Bora, former DFO of the Rajasthan Forest Department, also the investigating officer in these poaching cases.
Having spent sleepless nights gathering crucial evidence linking the actor with the poaching of protected animals, Bora expects the same fate for the black buck case, which, according to him, has enough evidence to nail the actor and his accomplices - fellow actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam.
In fact, it was Bora, who first apprehended Salman from the sets of Hum Saath Saath Hain, after locals claimed to have seen Salman shooting black buck late in the night on 1 October 1998.
Bora's recollection of events
Speaking to Catch, Bora, who quit the forest service in 2002, narrated the sequence of events that led to Salman's arrest. The actor is also facing a concerted campaign by the Bishnoi community, who are the traditional protectors of living beings.
According to Bora, on 2 October 1998, residents of Gudha Bishnoi, 23 kilometers from Jodhpur, visited the forest office, claiming two black buck had been gunned down. According to these eyewitnesses, the Gudha Bishnoi residents woke up to the sounds of firecrackers, and noticed a Maruti Gypsy suspiciously moving around the village.
Upon hearing the noise, Poonaram Bishnoi, one of the eyewitnesses, rushed out of his house and woke up Chaugaram Bishnoi, among others, who rushed towards the Gypsy and reached the spot. They saw two dead black buck and noted down the Gypsy's registration number (RJ19 1C 2201). Bora said that villagers tried to stop the Gypsy, but Salman pointed a gun a them and sped off. The villagers chased the vehicle on motorbikes, but to no avail.
It was the villagers who recognised Salman and others in the vehicle. Some villagers stayed at the spot while the rest rushed to the DFO's residence and narrated the entire incident, forcing the forest official to lodge a complaint.
On 7 October, the case was handed over to Bora, who swung into action and approached the Road Transport Officer.
Investigation revealed that the Gypsy belonged to one Arun Yadav, who claimed to have rented it out to the actor, who wanted an open vehicle. Yadav said the Gypsy was being driven by Harish Dulani, another key witness in the case, who was asked by Salman to sit in the back seat while he drove the vehicle.
After the investigation got over, Dulani disappeared for years, further weakening the case, which was used by Salman's legal team to his advantage. In the chinkara case, Salman's team argued that it was not able to cross-examine Dulani, and hence, his statement could be relied upon.
The lawyers claimed the entire investigation was built on circumstantial evidence, with no eyewitnesses or material evidence against the actor, which led to the court acquitting Salman.
The High Court also observed that the pellets recovered from the vehicle were different from the ones recovered from Salman. "What was he doing with pellets and guns while shooting for a film?" Bora questioned.
How the three cases were connected
In fact, it was during the investigation of the black buck case that the forest department stumbled upon the actor's involvement in poaching chinkaras. It was Dulani who spilled the beans on how film's actors had killed chinkaras and later consumed them at a hotel.
During questioning, Dulani mentioned how Salman and Saif would sit in the front seat while Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre would be at the back, with Salman's spot boy, Dinesh Gawre, further back.
"Dulani said Salman would stop the car on spotting a wild animal, and would rest his gun at the top of the vehicle and start shooting indiscriminately. Further, if Salman missed the target, Saif would tease him and ask him to focus," said Bora.
Armed with Dulani's confession, Bora went to arrest the actors, who were shooting a song sequence for the film.
When informed about the incident, Salman pleaded innocence, while the actresses started crying.
As expected, the actors denied any involvement, but were kept in the forest department's custody, where statements were taken. They were also informed about Dulani's statement that the actors had gone on hunting expeditions on two more occasions - 26 and 28 September - and killed chinkaras.
Interestingly, Bora video recorded these statements, and the court has asked for these tapes when the black buck case comes up for hearing on 6 August. In fact, short clips of this recording have been uploaded on to YouTube.
Further, Bora checked Salman's gun licences - a .22 bore rifle and a .32 bore revolver - and found they had expired.
"Later, he presented a temporary journey permit, and since these two cases were under the jurisdiction of the police, I don't know how the case progressed. After I gave my statement, he was convicted for these two incidents," Bora told this reporter.
What happened to the weapons?
With the intent to seize the weapons, the forest department raided Salman's hotel room and found them missing, while the actor's legal counsel argued he never had them. However, Bora was not satisfied, and soon found out that arms had been sent to Mumbai with Salman's spot boy Gawre - a fact corroborated by Indian Airlines.
Bora even visited Mumbai in search of Gawre, only to find him missing. During his visit, he claimed to have met Salim Khan, Salman's father, who claimed he didn't know Gawre's whereabouts. Bora even asked the hotel staff to furnish the names of all those who came with the film crew, which included Gawre. "The staff informed us that he had left," said Bora.
When the local court issued notices, the weapons were then sent from Mumbai and finally handed over on 18 September 1998 to the investigating team. "The court gave us four-day custody of Salman, and the weapons were handed over on the second day of the remand," he added.
In the chinkara case, the court ruled out the possibility of killing and skinning an animal with a pocket knife, leading to the actor's acquittal. Bora said the knife was handed over to him by Sohail Khan, Salman's brother.
Interestingly, Salman, during questioning, told Bora to let him go and said: "Agar main arrest ho gaya, meri Somi Ali se shaadi kaise hogi (If you arrest me, how will I marry Somi Ali?)"
Bora describes Saif as "problematic and intelligent in a notorious way". He recalls that during questioning, Dulani had said that the ritual of halal was preformed on the dead chinkaras, and when asked about the knife, Saif asked: "What does halal mean?"
When Bora's juniors tried to explain it to him, and Saif became aggressive and started throwing things around and accused them of using 'communal language'.
"I told him that we were just repeating what Dulani had told us. Then, Saif threatened me; that he would go to the Prime Minister, President. He said, 'do you know Veerappan'? I said, yes. He said, 'if you are a forest officer, then I am Veerappan'. Salman repeated it and said the same thing to me," said Bora.
Attempts to cover up
After the first post-mortem report on the animals, it became evident that attempts were being made to hush up the case.
On 2 October 1998, the doctor who conducted the post-mortem claimed that the animals died because of "overeating and jumping".
"It was weird. No deer dies of overeating and jumping, so we asked a board to be constituted to conduct another post mortem, which revealed bullet marks on the skin with burn marks on the perimeter," Bora added.
An FIR was lodged against the doctor who tried to fudge the report.
Bora had to face consequences for such a detailed investigation, with senior officers accusing him of unnecessarily hounding film stars. He claims there were times when he felt that it was he who was being interrogated.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
More in Catch