A Jodhpur court on Thursday sentenced Salman Khan to five years in jail along with a monetary fine of Rs 10,000 for killing two blackbucks, an endangered antelope, settling — for now — a bitter legal battle that has stretched over nearly 20 years.
While pronouncing the verdict, Dev Kumar Khatri, the Chief Judicial Magistrate of the court in Rajasthan State, called Mr. Khan a “habitual offender” against India’s wildlife protection laws. He however, acquitted fellow actors and co-accused Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam, giving them benefit of the doubt.
Prosecutors alleged that the 52-year-old shot the two blackbucks while driving out with some of his co-stars. The Bishnoi community, angered by this occurrence filed a complaint against the stars. Khan pleaded not guilty and has long maintained his innocence as the case has languished in legal limbo over the years. Khan’s lawyers said he was carrying an air gun, which cannot be used for hunting an antelope.
This is the fourth case filed against the actor in connection with poaching animals during the filming of the 1998 movie Hum Saath Saath Hain. He has been acquitted in three of them. Khan, 52, who pleaded not guilty, can appeal the case to a higher court. If the appeal is accepted, he could be granted bail or even have his sentence overturned.
The ruling is however not the actor’s first run-in with the law. In December 2015, Khan was cleared in a 2002 hit-and-run case in which a homeless man died and four others were in injured. His car allegedly ran over them while they were sleeping on a street in the western city of Mumbai. A lower court had convicted him in May 2015. However, seven months later, the high court acquitted him. It said that key evidence – including testimony from a policeman who had since died – was not reliable.
One of Bollywood’s biggest stars, the actor has appeared in more than 100 films and has a huge fan following across the vast spectrum of Indian society. As per trade estimates, almost Rs 500 crore is riding on the actor.
Salman Khan has more than 32 million followers on Twitter and another 15.3 million on Instagram. Forbes ranked him 71st in their list of the world’s highest paid celebrities and the ninth-highest paid actor, estimating he raked in $37 million in 2017.
While his time in the spotlight has attracted praise and controversy in equal measure, this latest conviction is unlikely to dent his popularity or damage his career due to the cult-like status he enjoys.