Sunday, November 1, 1998
WHEN the entire nation was celebrating Wildlife Protection Week, film stars from Bollywood were busy indiscriminately killing innocent animals in Rajasthan. For days together, after a hectic shooting schedule at the sets of Rajshri Pictures film Hum Saath Saath Hain at Jodhpur, these top heroes and heroines used to whisk away in the jungles near the town in the dark everyday with guns and kill black bucks, chinkaras and peacocks. The prey were then brought to a local hotel which cooked tasty dishes with their meat for the stars. All this went on for several days, but the fun came to an abrupt halt on Gandhi Jayanti, October 2.
Encouraged with the poaching of chinkaras and peacocks for several days, the hunters decided to savour black bucks, too. On October 1, with the assistance of the manager of the travel agency run by Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, the film stars went to Gudha Bishnoian and shot two black bucks. As the black bucks fell on the ground writhing in pain, Salman got out of his Gypsy to halal the animals with the help of the big knife he had brought along with him. Hearing the gunshots villagers came running out of their houses only to find the helpless black bucks dying. Seeing the villagers the film stars fled from the village in their Gypsy leaving the bucks behind. But the villagers recognised Salman and after a chase on a motor cycle noted the number of their Gypsy.
Next day, the villagers reported the incident to forest officials and filed a written complaint naming Salman Khan as the poacher and giving the number of the Gypsy.
On the basis of the complaint forest officials reached Gudha Bishnoian and seized the dead black bucks. They were also shown the stone which was used for the halal of the black bucks. A veterinary surgeon, Dr Narain Prasad Nepalia, was summoned and asked to conduct a post-mortem on the dead animals. The skin of the killed bucks was taken out and preserved in the forest office.
The Gypsy mentioned in the First Information Report was also subsequently seized. The interrogation of the driver confirmed that on the night the bucks were killed Salman was not alone. He was accompanied in the Gypsy by, besides a local guide, film stars Saif Ali, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam Kothari. On inspection of the vehicle the forest officials came to the conclusion that it was earlier used to ferry dead chinkaras. A subsequent enquiry revealed that Salman Khan had hunted chinkaras, too, on September 26 and 28 in Mathania. Satish Shah was also with Salman on the night of October 2.
Black bucks are considered as holy animals by the Bishnois and for them there cant be a bigger sin than killing the sacred animal. So when they doubted that the investigation was not proceeding with the desired speed, they started a dharna in Jodhpur, demanding the arrest of the culprits. Finally, forest officials took Salman Khan, Saif Ali, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam into custody from the sets of the film Hum Saath Saath Hain at Mandore Gardens on October 9.
Whatever turned out after the grilling of the stars for about seven hours led the forest officials to believe that Salman Khan was the main accused. Just as the officials were to formally arrest the stars, Salman Khan and Saif Ali obtained interim bail till October 12 from the court. They were released but the film actresses were arrested and produced before a magistrate in the night itself. They were released on bail.
On October 12, however, the magistrate rejected Salmans application for anticipatory bail and he was, therefore, arrested by the forest officials in the afternoon.
On October 13, Salmans counsel pleaded before the magistrate that he was innocent and was being falsely implicated for political reasons. Their argument was that the brother of Forest Minister Jaswant Singh Bishnoi was present during the initial interrogation by forest officials on October 9. But the incident started getting a communal colour outside the court room where thousands of people had gathered. A section of the crowd intermittently raised the slogan Hernon ke hatyaron ko phansi do (Hang the killers of black bucks), which was instantly replied by full-throated slogans of Salman Khan zindabad by another section of the crowd, comprising a particular community.
Bishnois staged a dharna outside the court premises, demanding stern punishment to the culprits as the accused had hurt their religious sentiments. On October 14, however, some loudspeaker-fitted vehicles made rounds in the Muslim locality, announcing that Salman was in difficulty and his brother wants to address the local Muslims to get their support for the film star. The Muslims were urged to assemble at the stadium grounds to hear Salmans brother. People started gathering at the announced venue but the local police swiftly swung into action and dispersed the crowd. The feeling amongst some Muslims is that the Salman case is being blown out of proportion because the state has a BJP government. Salmans brother Sohail also charged that his brother was a victim of politics, but he did not specify any person or party.
On a request of forest officials the court remanded Salman in their custody for three days so that the arms used in the crime could be recovered from him. In the meantime, the arms used in hunting were sent back to Bombay by Salman. The Forest Department, therefore, despatched a team of officials for their recovery. Seeing no way out Salman preferred to get back the arms himself. His men handed over one revolver and one .22 gun to the forest officials team, while it was half way to Bombay at Mt Abu. Two days later Salmans farmhouse at Panvel was raided by forest officials of Bombay, who recovered from there two guns, one Mouser, one Magnum and a one 12-bore gun. The raiding party also discovered two live chinkaras, one black buck and one peacock, which are enlisted as protected animals and birds in Schedule I of the Protection of Wildlife Act. The arms seized from the Panvel farmhouse were in custody of Salmans family without any licence from appropriate authority.
While Salman was constantly pleading his innocence his supporters were trying to destroy the evidence outside. They managed to get an imaginary post-mortem report from the government vet, Dr Narain Prasad Nepalia, saying that the black bucks died of overeating and dog bites. The report, however, did not match with the skins of the black bucks preserved in the Forest Department. Sensing manipulation the Forest Department ordered a fresh autopsy by a board of vets. The board got the carcass taken out from the grave, and after a thorough examination reported that both the bucks had marks of bullet shots. The department not only immediately suspended Dr Nepalia after receiving the second post-mortem report but also got a case registered against him for giving a false post-mortem report.
After the surrender of arms by Salman, the court released him on bail on October 15, only to be arrested again, this time by the police, on the charge of killing chinkaras and peacocks in Mathania on September 26 and 28. After remaining in police lock-up for 24 hours, Salman was remanded in judicial custody by the court till October 26.
The ordeal for Salman, however, ended on October 17 when the District and Sessions Judge ordered his release on bail on the condition that he furnished a bail bond worth Rs 1 lakh, and ordered him to surrender his passport within a week to the police. Immediately after getting bail, Salman took a flight to Bombay.
Salman might have got a reprieve from the ordeal in Jodhpur but his woes do not appear to be over. The recovery of unlicensed arms and live protected animals from his farmhouse in Bombay may land him in more trouble.
At one stage it appeared as if the entire case of killing innocent animals might be hushed up as top stars of the filmdom were involved, who had the capacity to influence investigation. Taking no chance Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in his own inimitable style called a high-level meeting on October 11 at the secretariat to take stock of the situation.
The meeting, besides others, was attended by Chief Secretary Arun Kumar, Additional Chief and Principal Home Secretary VN Bahadur, DG Police Amitabh Gupta, Forest Secretary Alka Kala, Law Secretary SK Garg and Chief Wildlife Warden RG Soni.
After thorough deliberations he ordered a team of four top-ranking officials comprising Inspector-General of Police (Crime) Namo Narain Meena, Chief Wildlife Warden RG Soni, DIG Sudhir Pratap Singh and an expert from the forensic lab to immediately proceed to Jodhpur. This team camped at Jodhpur to oversee and guide the entire process of investigation and court proceedings. As a result the investigation, which once appeared going haywire, was again put on the right track.
This is not the first time that Shekhawat has shown keen interest in the protection of wildlife. Wildlife lovers vividly remember his role in stopping the indiscriminate shooting of the great Indian bustard in the sand dunes of Jaisalmer by Arab Sheikhs. Shekhawat was then, too, the CM of the state, and the present PM, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was the Foreign Minister. Vajpayee advised Shekhawat to proceed cautiously as stopping Sheikhs from hunting in Indian territory may adversely affect the countrys relations with Arab countries. But Shekhawat refused to permit hunting of innocent birds, which were already on the verge of extinction. Meanwhile, a massive public protest came forth. Unmindful of indirect suggestions from the Foreign Minister, Shekhawat forced the Sheikhs to pack up and leave Jaisalmer without having the fun of shooting the birds.
Salman Khan might have given many shots in various films depicting court scenes and jail life. But he had the first encounter with real life courts and jails in Jodhpur. Between October 12 and 17 he had the experience of forest custody, police lock-up and a jail cell. For his custody the Rasala Road office of the District Forest Officer was turned into a jail where Salman was provided a cot, a bedding and a room cooler. Though the comforts provided to him there were no match to the ones available at Ummed Bhavan Palace, his only complaint was about mosquitoes.
After his release from custody Salman was arrested by the police and lodged at the Basni police station. After intense interrogation till after midnight Salman was allowed to rest and was provided an iron cot and a durrie to sleep in the lock-up.
In jail he was put in a cell along with a convict officer (a lifer who has completed two-thirds of his jail term). He had to sleep on the floor. Only one durrie and a blanket was provided by the jail authorities but there was no bedding nor pillow. He was, however, permitted to get his own bedcover as permitted under the jail manual.
If the charge of poaching black bucks is proved in the court of law, Salman will have to undergo a minimum imprisonment of one year. Along with the jail term he may also be ordered to pay a heavy fine.
Section 51 of the Protection of Wildlife Act of 1972 says that any body found guilty of killing rare and endangered species of wildlife enlisted in Schedule I and II, will be liable to imprisonment up to six years but not less than one year. The punishment may also attract a fine up to Rs 25,000 but not less than Rs 50,000.
Kya Hum Saath Saath Hain?
The filmstars involved in the black buck shooting had came to Jodhpur for the shooting of Rajshri Productions film Hum Saath Saath Hain. But were the stars shooting the film really saath saath?
Salman Khan, Saif Ali, Satish Shah, Tabu, Sonali and Neelam used to remain saath saath and enjoy hunting of innocent animals and savouring their meat. They were also saath saath when forest officials arrested them from the sets of Hum Saath Saath Hain, barring Satish Shah, who escaped the dragnet of the law. All the filmstars were kept and interrogated Saath Saath at the forest office. Till then each of them was saath saath, but soon they fell apart.
While the interrogation was half way at the forest office, counsel for Salman Khan and Saif Ali produced court orders granting them interim bail. The bewildered actresses were taken aback when they were informed that no one had approached the court for bail on their behalf. Soon the forest officials told them they were under arrest. The unnerved actresses started weeping as they were left alone. But the forest officials were kind enough to produce them the same evening before a magistrate who, granting them bail, ordered their release.
On the next working day
Saif Ali was granted bail but Salmans application
was rejected, and he was thus arrested. All those who
were saath saath deserted him and Salman had to
spend the night alone in custody. Saif Ali even left
Jodhpur with his father. Since then Salman is fighting
the battle all alone.
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