Uphaar cinema tragedy
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Ansals convicted of negligence
The Times of India, Aug 20 2015
SC spares Ansals jail, fines them Rs 60 crore
Real estate tycoons Sushil and Gopal Ansal, convicted for negligence leading to the Uphaar cinema fire in 1997 that killed 59 people, will not have to go to jail again. The Supreme Court ruled that the less than six months they had already spent behind bars was adequate punishment. The court, however, asked the duo to pay Rs 30 crore each to the Delhi government to set up a trauma centre as a miti gating measure warranting reduction of their sentence.
A bench of Justices A R Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh K Goel rejected CBI's plea for a two-year jail term for the brothers to send a message to the rich and pow erful that they could not escape the rigour of penal law.While Sushil was in jail for five months and 20 days, his brother served a term of four months and 20 days. Neelam Krishnamur thy, who lost her two children in the tragedy and led the advocacy for Uphaar victims, was crestfallen after the verdict, and gave vent to her emotions outside court by repeatedly telling senior advocate Ram Jethmalani that he was responsible for destroying their hopes of justice.
The trial court had awarded two-year imprisonment to both brothers after holding them guilty of negligence. But the Delhi high court reduced the sentence to one-year imprisonment. The Ansals were the first to appeal against the HC verdict, followed by the CBI in 2009.
While entertaining the Ansals' appeal, the SC had in 2009 asked why the sentence awarded by the high court should not be enhanced. The CBI had pleaded that the convicts should serve two years in prison.
On March 5 last year, a bench of Justices T S Thakur and Gyan Sudha Misra was unanimous in upholding conviction under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code for negligent acts which impeded speedy evacuation of patrons from the theatre after fire from a transformer engulfed it on June 13, 1997.
Justice Thakur had agreed with the high court decision to reduce the sentence to one year while holding that the Ansal brothers not only showed scant regard for the safety of patrons by putting up extra seats, but also endangered their safety by making structural changes in the theatre.
Justice Misra took into account the enormity of the tragedy and said two years' imprisonment to the Ansals would serve the ends of justice. But she had said Sushil need not undergo further imprisonment as he was ailing.She had agreed to set off the additional one-year sentence imposed by her if the Ansals agreed to pay Rs 50 crore each as compensation to set up a Rs 100-crore trauma cen tre in Dwarka in south-west Delhi, terming the area accident-prone.
Despite the unanimity among the two judges on the one-year sentence, the matter was referred to a threejudge bench because of the additional term of Rs 100 crore to be paid by the Ansals for a trauma centre.
Appearing for Sushil, Jethmalani argued how his client had no role in the tragedy . When the bench asked how much the brothers could pay , Jethmalani said, “We can pay Rs 20 crore each. But for that, the court has to give us three months.We will dispose of land to get the money .“
Appearing for Gopal, senior advocate Salman Khurshid said, “We like any human being feel something terrible has happened. This is an opportunity for the court to allow them to do something for society . They have already done a great deal of work for the country .They are caught in an unfortunate situation.“
Appearing for CBI, advocate Aparajita Singh said, “It is not a question of compensation. These persons have been held guilty for gross negligence and blatant disregard for the law. An identical fire had happened in the theatre in 1989 in the early morning when there were no patrons. But no corrective measures were taken, leading to death of 59 people. They have flouted every law on safety measures needed for running a cinema theatre.
“If they are educated businessmen, it should be held against them. As educated persons, they should have realized the danger that was lurking in the theatre for the unsuspecting patrons.They deserve to be made an example to send a loud message to society.“
The SC had repeatedly accepted requests of Ansals' counsel for adjournments.But , it refused to accommodate Aparajita Singh's request for a 15-minute argument by senior advocate Harish Salve.
SC revisits own ruling/ 2017
In a rare instance where it revisited its ruling, the Supreme Court ordered real estate tycoon Gopal Ansal on Thursday to serve seven more months in prison for the Uphaar fire tragedy.
This comes over a year after it let him off along with his brother, Sushil Ansal, on ce they had served a few months in prison.
However, Sushil was spared this time because of old age and ailments.
In its earlier order, the apex court had termed the few months the Ansals were in jail as adequate punishment for the negligence that turned Delhi's Uphaar movie hall into a blazing fire trap that left 59 persons dead in 1997.
The case has had a chequered history in courts. The trial court had convicted Sushil and Gopal for negligence leading to the tragedy and asked them to serve two years in jail each. The Delhi high court then reduced this to one-year imprisonment. On March 5, 2014, an SC bench of Justices T S Thakur and G S Mishra upheld their conviction. Justice Thakur agreed with the HC decision to reduce the imprisonment to one year. But Justice Mishra said two-year prison term was justified. However, she said the jail term could be reduced to one year if the Ansals paid Rs 50 crore each for construction of a Rs 100 crore trauma centre in Dwarka.
On August 19, 2015, a bench of Justices A R Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh K Goel rejected the CBI's plea for twoyear jail terms intended to send a message that the rich and influential cannot evade the rigour of penal law. The bench let off the Ansal brothers with the period of imprisonment already undergone as just punishment provided they paid Rs 30 crore each to Delhi government to set up a Rs 60 crore trauma centre.
An impassioned plea by Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) led by Neelam Krishnamoorthy for review of the sentence persuaded the court to hear arguments afresh. On Thursday , a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Goel partially reviewed the August 19, 2015 judgment by a 2-1verdict.
While Justices Gogoi and Joseph directed only Gopal Ansal to serve seven months and 10 days more in prison to complete his one-year sentence, Justice Goel declined to entertain the review petition.
The court by majority verdict said Sushil Ansal was shown leniency because of his old age and ailments, which was not the case with Gopal.While Sushil had undergone five months and 20 days' imprisonment, his brother had served a jail term of four months and 20 days. The court asked Gopal to surrender to authorities within four weeks to undergo the remaining part of his sentence.
Justices Gogoi and Joseph ruled that the August 19, 2015 judgment directing the Ansals to deposit Rs 30 crore each would stand. Sushil and Gopal have already paid Rs 30 crore each.