New Delhi, Jan. 24: Bollywood stars Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre and Tabu can afford to smile a bit.
The Supreme Court today refused to allow their prosecution under the Indian Penal Code for killing a black buck, a protected species, in 1998 but said they would face trial under the wildlife act.
Justices P. Sathasivam, J.S. Khehar and Vikramjit Sen found no reason to interfere with Rajasthan High Court's decisions that the stars and another person, Dushayant Singh, could be prosecuted under the wildlife act but not for rioting under IPC sections 146, 147 and 148 and unlawful assembly (Section 149).
"The high court has held they can be prosecuted under the wildlife (protection) act. We find no reason to interfere with it," Justice Sathasivam, heading the bench, said while dismissing the state's appeal.
Following a complaint by forest officials, the five had been booked under Sections 51 and 52 of the wildlife act, apart from the IPC sections, for allegedly gunning down the black buck in the forest areas of Jodhpur.
On February 20, 2006, a trial court framed charges against the accused. On an appeal by the stars, the sessions court set aside the charges framed against them on May 4, 2006.
The state appealed in the high court, which on July 24, 2012, partly set aside the sessions court order by retaining the charges under sections 51 and 52 of the wildlife act. But the court dropped the other charges under IPC sections 146 (which defines rioting), 147 and 148.
Section 147 refers to rioting by persons armed with deadly weapons and the maximum punishment under this provision can extend to two years or a fine or both.
Section 148 also relates to rioting by persons armed with deadly weapons but the punishment under this provision can extend up to three years.
Section 51 and 52 of the wildlife act prohibits unauthorised entry or hunting down of wild animals in forest areas and prescribes a punishment of up to three years or a fine that could go up to Rs 25,000.
The state then appealed in the apex court, contending that the high court had erroneously dropped the charges under sections 147 and 148 by taking the view that the alleged unlawful assembly "using criminal force" was not against any person but animals.
Additional advocate general Manish Singhvi argued that the four actors and Singh had committed an offence not only under the wildlife act but also under the IPC provisions. So they should be prosecuted under these provisions too, the law officer said, but failed to convince the apex court.