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October 12, 1998


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Salman arrested

V S Srinivasan

Salman Khan. Click for bigger pic!
Will we be seeing Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre emerge from a prison six years hence? Well, that is the question currently being discussed in a Jodhpur court after the stars were hauled up on charges of killing endangered species in Jodhpur over six days.

As of now, Salman has already been arrested under the Wildlife Act after his application for bail was rejected though Saif has been granted anticipatory bail. Salman has reportedly moved a higher court, seeking anticipatory bail.

According to reports, of the five people held, Salman and Saif were granted interim anticipatory bail that expired today by the district and session court, while Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam were arrested late on Friday night and released subsequently on bail the same night.

The team had descended on Jaipur to shoot for Sooraj Barjatya's Hum Saath Saath Hain. But they have been out hunting since October 1. The last time they were at it, the villagers caught them red-handed.

Sonali Bendre. Click for bigger pic!
Saif already has a dubious track record where wildlife is concerned. His father Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi once had a spat with former Union environment minister Maneka Gandhi over the killing of animals in Jammu and Kashmir. Salman Khan is never known for temperance or concern for anything except the ones that bother him.

Local Bishnoi villagers consider wildlife sacred and are quick to report any transgression to the authorities.

The Bollywood stars were warned of this as soon as they came in, said a source who was at the shoot.

"When the unit came in, a local told them that poaching was not allowed and that the blackbuck was an endangered species that should not be harmed. There were even notices put up in the jungle, saying we shouldn't poach."

Saif Ali Khan. Click for bigger pic!
But then Salman and Saif had already decided they wanted to go ahead and hunt. The other actors, Mohnish Behl and Mahesh Thakur, refused to go along with them. Sooraj Barjatya apparently tried to dissuade them, but the men were adamant. Sonali and Tabu were excited by the thought. Actually, the source claimed, they wanted to try out deer meat.

The Bishnois take their role as protectors of wild animals very seriously, feeding migratory birds and carefully guarding the dwindling stock of antelope from poachers. They had complained to the forest department earlier this week that the stars had been out poaching.

Based on these reports from the villagers, the forest department lay in ambush. But when they moved in the stars allegedly ran away but the driver of their vehicle was arrested. Both the animals the stars allegedly killed are endangered species. Forest officials said post-mortem examination on the deer confirmed the animals had been shot.

Karisma Kapoor, who is also part of the cast, was not present in Jodhpur when the incident occurred.

Neelam Kothari. Click for bigger pic!
The offences carry a minimum of six years in jail if they are found guilty.

Lawyers for the actors say their clients have been falsely implicated in the case.

The World Wide Fund for Nature-India today urged the government to take the strongest possible measures to ensure that the stars are brought to book.

Yesterday, the Legal Action for Wildlife and Environment petitioned the President, also sending letters to the prime minister, the Rajasthan chief minister and the environment and forests minister, urging them to ensure that the stars used no influence to subvert the process of law.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has already constituted a high-level team to supervise and expedite investigation into the case.

Tabu. Click for bigger pic!
The chief minister, who reviewed the issue at a meeting assured strict action would be taken against the guilty.

The team includes Director General of Police Shyam Pratap Singh Rathore, Inspector General of Police (crime) Namo Narain Meena, a ballistic expert and a forensic science laboratory expert.

The government has also decided to conduct a fresh post-mortem of the slain animals following allegations that the first post-mortem report was misleading.

Shooting of the film, of course, has come to a standstill. The Barjatyas are crossing their fingers that a miracle will happen and the stars will be freed.

But even if they are, all that lies a long way ahead.

Additional reportage: UNI

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