Although Bollywood actor Salman Khan was acquitted by the Rajasthan High Court in the Chinkara poaching case, there is a new twist in the tale with the re-appearance of the key witness
By Nayantara Roy
Yet again, the stars seemed to favor Salman Khan. On July 25, the Rajasthan High Court acquitted the actor in two separate cases where he was accused of poaching on chinkaras belonging to the deer family. In fact, three separate cases were filed against Khan for killing deer on different days in the months of September and October 1998 while he was in Jodhpur for a film shoot.
The trial court had convicted Khan under Section 51 of the Wild Life Protection Act and sentenced him to one year of simple imprisonment with a Rs 5,000 fine. But the High Court found all the evidence produced most unsatisfactory and replete with infirmities.
Khan was convicted primarily on the statement of the driver of a Gypsy that Khan purportedly used for his hunting trips. The driver’s statement had been taken down under Section 164 of the CrPC before a magistrate but was subsequently never examined in court as he had “disappeared.” Therefore, Khan’s lawyer was not given an opportunity to cross examine him as per the requirement of Section 33 of the Evidence Act.
It was found that the driver had been kept in the illegal custody of the Forest Department at the time that his statement under Section 164 was recorded. Further, the testimony of the vehicle owner was that the driver had been left behind at the Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel and had not driven Khan.
Regarding the driver’s testimony, the court said that it made Khan appear to have been “multi-tasking”, driving the vehicle, shooting the deer, climbing out of the vehicle to cut the deer’s throat with a knife and climbing back in to take the wheel.
The vehicle had been left unattended and uncovered, in the open, after recovery. Testimony from various witnesses showed discrepancies such as that they had not found blood or hair in the car at the time it was impounded but several days later they found deer bloodstains (proved by laboratory forensic reports) and hair in the vehicle.
Even regarding the recovery of the various guns allegedly used the evidence showed that the .22 gun had been brought to Jodhpur only on the request of officials after the case had been filed.
There was nothing to prove that it was in Jodhpur prior to the filing of the case. The other two weapons, a revolver and an air gun, were not the usual weapons that are used in deer hunting. Importantly no deer carcass was recovered; therefore bullets could not be matched to corroborate the prosecution’s story.
According to media reports, animal rights activists have alleged that the evidence has been deliberately weakened. Two days after the verdict the driver, Harish Dulani, reappeared and told the media that his family had been threatened and that he would have come forward and deposed if he had been given protection.
In the light of new developments, the Rajasthan government is likely to challenge the Rajasthan High Court verdict in the Supreme Court. According to media reports, the home minister of Rajasthan has assured that Dulani would be provided protection, in case he sought it in writing.