The Supreme Court was on September 5 critical of the relief granted to actor Salman Khan by the Rajasthan High Court staying his conviction in the 1998 black buck poaching case.
"You may have good case for suspension of sentence but not for conviction," the bench comprising by Justice S J Mukhopadhaya and P C Pant observed.
"Let equal law apply to everyone. There should be no discrimination vis-a-vis convicts," the bench further said. It clarified that conviction stayed means that the hearing involves re-appreciation of the evidence. The remarks were made during the hearing of the petition filed by Rajasthan government challenging the stay granted by the High Court on his conviction in the case.
The bench posted the matter for final hearing on October 28. The observations assumes importance, as Salman in his affidavit filed on August 27, has told the apex court that he has always been treated as an ordinary citizen by courts and never been given any special privilege. He has sought to justify the Rajasthan High Court order staying his conviction in the black buck hunting case and dismissal of appeal filed by state government against the decision.
Salman has submitted that he has been one of the highest tax payers and the high court stayed his conviction to enable him to go abroad for professional reasons which bring in foreign exchange in the country.
The 48-year-old actor had opposed the stand taken by Rajasthan government which had submitted that the high court had granted special privileges to him by staying his conviction in which he was sentenced by a trial court to undergo five-year jail term.
On July 9, the apex court had issued notice to Salman on a plea by Rajasthan government challenging the high court decision.
The state government had approached the apex court against the Rajasthan High Court order of November 12 last year, staying his 2006 conviction in the case and paving way for him to apply for a British visa.
Salman in his affidavit had said, "It is denied that the High Court failed to apply the principle that everyone is equal before law and granted me special privilege because I am a celebrity. The courts have at all times treated me as any other ordinary citizen and I have always complied with the conditions imposed upon me."
Seeking dismissal of the state government's plea, the star submitted that he is also a philanthropist and promotes Indian films and his professional engagement generates employment for the industry.
"The nature of my professional engagements is such that I frequently travel to various countries, where I am required to discharge my professional duties towards films, promotion of films, brand endorsements, promoting charitable causes," he had said.
Salman said that the high court has appreciated the fact that the trial court's conviction order had started hampering his professional engagements and would cause irreparable damage to him as well as others who will engage his professional service as an actor.
Refuting allegations of Rajasthan government that one prime witness was threatened to depose in his favour, Salman said it was a mere charge which was never proved. Under British immigration rules, any person convicted for more than four years is not eligible for a visa. Since the actor was convicted for five years, he was denied visa by the British High Commission.
The passports of Indian convicts are stamped with the word "convict".
The actor had approached the high court in 2007 seeking a stay on his conviction by a trial court so that he could file a fresh application for a British visa. Salman was convicted and sentenced to one-year and five-year prison terms in separate cases of poaching of two Chinkaras at Bhawad and one black buck at Ghoda Farm (Mathania) on the intervening night of September 26-27, 1998 and September 28-29, 1998 respectively. Black buck is a protected animal and its hunting is a punishable offence.
Besides Khan, actors Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam were accused of poaching near Jodhpur during the shooting of the film Hum Saath Saath Hain.