New Delhi: The "magnitude" of the Uphaar fire tragedy case, which had claimed 59 lives, "calls for a higher sentence" but the court has to limit itself to the choice available under the law, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.
The apex court's reasoning came on its August 19 order by which Ansal brothers, Sushil and Gopal, were sent to two-year rigorous jail term if they failed to pay Rs 30 crore each within three months.
"We are conscious of the fact that the matter of this magnitude may call for a higher sentence, but the Court has to limit itself to the choice available under the law prescribing the sentence," the three-judge bench headed by Justice A R Dave said.
"The fact that remains is that maximum sentence prescribed under the law is period of two years and the High Court had chosen, in the facts and circumstances of the case, to award sentence of one year which has been approved by Justice T S Thakur.
"In the dissenting opinion by Justice Gyan Sudha Misra, the modification is that the sentence be enhanced but giving an option to pay substantial amount in lieu of the enhanced sentence with further direction to reduce the jail sentence to the period already undergone, if the amount of fine in lieu of enhanced sentence is paid," the bench also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel said.
While Sushil has spent over five months in prison, Gopal was in jail for over four months immediately after the tragedy.
The matter had come before the three-judge bench after a two-judge bench of Justices Thakur and Misra (since retired) had differed on the quantum of sentence for Ansal brothers -- Sushil, 76, and Gopal, 67.
While Justice Thakur had retained the one-year jail term awarded by the Delhi High Court in 2008, Justice Misra had awarded the maximum punishment of two years with a rider that it can be reduced to the period already undergone behind bars on payment of Rs 100 crore as fine collectively by them.