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SC quashes complaint against JJ Irani

New Delhi, Aug. 8: Supreme Court today quashed on technical grounds, criminal proceedings against former Joint MD J.J. Irani in connection with a 1989 fire in which 60 persons had died and 113 were injured at Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited (TISCO) in Jamshedpur during 150th birth anniversary celebrations of the group’s founder Sir Jamsetji Tata.

A bench of justices S.J. Mukhopadhaya and S.A. Bobde set aside a Jharkhand High Court order of 2007, which had directed criminal proceedings against Irani and the then factory manager P.N. Roy for their alleged criminal negligence which led to the mishap.

The apex court passed the order while dealing with the appeal filed by Irani and Roy challenging the high court order of June 15, 2007, by which it had reversed the order passed by the CJM Jamshedpur who held that no cognisance could be taken as the complaint was registered three months after the incident.

The high court had directed criminal proceedings against the duo following which they appealed in the apex court.

On March 3, 1989, TISCO was celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of J.N. Tata as Foundation Day.

Temporary shamianas at the main gate of the factory premises were erected. All of a sudden a fire broke out and two of the pandals, where guests were seated, were gutted.

As many as 20 persons died on the spot, while 40 others succumbed to the injuries in hospital.

The fire had begun in the VIP gallery, spreading through the false ceiling under the tarpaulin and setting the cloth and bamboo structure ablaze.

The tragedy permanently changed the face of the Foundation Day celebrations, making the steel major do away with VIP enclosures and fireworks display and bringing in the aspect of fire safety into prominence.

Irani had challenged the high court order on the ground that the complaint filed by the Inspector of Factories was filed beyond the limitation period of three months as required by Section 106 of the Factories Act, 1948.

Allowing the appeal, the apex court said, “We find that it has not been disputed at any stage that the complainant was not associated with and did not participate in the preliminary investigation from 5th to 6th March 1989 along with the Chief Inspector of Factories.

“The Inspector must be taken as having acquired knowledge of the alleged commission of the offence soon before or at least on 08.03.1989, when the report of preliminary investigation was sent to the Commissioner of Labour, Bihar.

The apex court said the failure to submit a plan of the pandals erected, failure to drawing up “on-sight” emergency plan and disaster control were alleged breaches which could have been ascertained from the office record of the Inspector.

“We are clearly of the view that it was not necessary for the Inspector to have waited to receive the report on 23.04.1990 from the government under cover of the letter dated 21.04.1990 directing him to file a complaint for the prosecution of the appellants. We thus agree with the view of the learned Chief Judicial Magistrate, Jamshedpur, and disagree with the view of the high court,” Justice Bobde said in his judgment.

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