Supreme Court lets off Ansals with Rs 60cr fine in 1997 Uphaar fire case
New Delhi, Aug 19 (PTI): The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed Sushil and Gopal Ansal to walk free in the case of the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy in which 59 people suffocated to death.
The realty barons have to furnish a fine of Rs 30 crore each within three months.
Awarding the jail term for a period already undergone by the real estate barons, a three-judge bench of Justices A.R. Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel asked them to deposit the fine with the Delhi government, which in turn will spend the money on welfare schemes.
While Sushil Ansal has spent over five months in prison, Gopal has spent jail time of over four months.
The bench rejected the submissions of senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Central Bureau of Investigation, that the convicts be sent to jail to serve the remaining jail term.
”My instruction from CBI is to press for their custody,” Salve said, when the court sought his views.
Senior advocate K.T.S Tulsi, who represented the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), said that the convicts not only be jailed, but rather their punishment should be enhanced.
Fifty-nine people, trapped in the balcony of the theatre, died of asphyxia following the fire and over 100 were injured in the subsequent stampede on June 13, 1997 during the screening of Bollywood film “Border”.
On March 5 last year, a bench of justices T.S. Thakur and Gyan Sudha Mishra (since retired) had held the real estate barons guilty, but differed on the amount of sentence to be awarded to them.
It had concurred in holding that there was “contemptuous disregard” of civic laws on part of the Ansals that led to the tragedy as they were “more interested in making money than ensuring safety of people”.
Justice Thakur had concurred with the 2008 verdict of the Delhi High Court, which had awarded one-year jail term to both Sushil and Gopal Ansal.
However, Justice Mishra had reduced the jail term to the period already served in jail by Sushil considering his age and enhanced the sentence of Gopal to two years.
During the hearing Wednesday, senior advocate Ram Jethmalani began his submission accusing employees of Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and said they escaped as they were government servants.
On the morning of the fateful day, a minor fire had broken out in the transformer and the DVB sent some small-time 'mistri' instead of experts to fix the problem, he said.
”Mr Jethmalani, you cannot argue against the conviction. We can hear you only on quantum of sentence,” the bench said, adding that the previous bench had already upheld the conviction.
”File a review, if you want to challenge it,” the court said.
There was sharp exchange of words between Tulsi and Jethmalani when Tulsi objected to the narration of facts.
”You sit down. I am entitled to raise it again and again,” Jethmalani told Tulsi.
Earlier, the Ansals had challenged their conviction and claimed they were in no way responsible for the tragedy because a faulty DVB transformer had caused the fire.
The CBI had filed an appeal challenging the alteration in conviction and reduction of sentence by the Delhi High Court on December 19, 2008. The sentence for the Ansals was reduced to one year as against the two-year sentence imposed by the sessions court.
AVUT had also approached the apex court seeking enhancement of sentence to the Ansals.
Two judges of the apex court bench had upheld the conviction, but they had differed on the quantum of sentence. The matter was then referred to a three-judge bench.