The Rajasthan High Court has acquitted Bollywood badshah Salman Khan in two cases of alleged poaching—of a blackbuck and a chinkara—on grounds of the evidence not matching up, but as in the case of his acquittal in the 2002 hit-and-run case, what emerges is a sickening picture of the rich and powerful getting away with the use of clever lawyers, of the evidence suddenly not matching, of witnesses disappearing, and a lot more. While Khan is home free after nearly two decades in the blackbuck/chinkara case and one-and-a-half in the hit-and-run one—in which one person was crushed to death and four others maimed—the country’s justice system is in the dock as never before. Not just because the two cases involve the same high-profile actor, but because they are so similar, they almost look like the script of the same Bollywood film. Except, at least so far, unlike in the case of the movie Jolly LLB—that was largely based on the Sanjeev Nanda case—the guilty have not been brought to justice.
If, in the 2002 case, original statements of some witnesses and case files went missing, a mismatch was found in the pellets in the blackbuck/chinkara case. When the lower court in Rajasthan sentenced Khan for illegal poaching, presumably, the pellets in the animals matched those found in Khan’s possession and also Khan’s rifle. Yet, the Rajasthan High Court found they did not match —whether the police did a shoddy investigation is not clear, nor is it clear how this was not discovered during the hearing in the lower court; the implications for justice for the not so well-connected are frightening. If a key prosecution witness turned hostile in the 2002 hit-and-run case and Khan’s driver suddenly turned up and claimed he was at the wheel when the accident took place, the blackbuck/chinkara case saw a different twist to this storyline. In this case, the driver of the vehicle that Khan and his friends allegedly used for the hunt simply disappeared. A new twist, though, was added since Khan’s legal team discredited his previous testimony by saying it did not get to question him—since the prosecution says the driver was in court on two occasions, not questioning him may have been a strategic decision. At the time of the original investigation and conviction in the lower court, forensic reports seem to have matched the blood stains at the site of the poaching with those found at the hotel Khan was staying in—the High Court’s acquittal of Khan suggests the evidence was not as compelling. Both cases had their share of witnesses turning hostile. Since no human lives were at stake, unlike in 2002, it is not clear that the case will be appealed in the Supreme Court by the central government. But given how the case exposes the really weak underbelly of India’s justice system—in each case, the higher courts overruled the lower courts—someone needs to see what went wrong at each step of the case.