No jail for Ansals: CBI, Uphaar case victims to file review petition in SC
A day after real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal escaped from being jailed in the 18-year-old Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy case, the victims of the gruesome incident have sought a review of the Supreme Court's ruling on them.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) appeal to argue the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy case further and directed it to file a review petition.
"It will not be proper. We have already passed the order," a three-judge bench headed by Justice AR Dave said when senior advocate Harish Salve, who has been representing CBI in this case, sought 15 more minutes to argue some of the points in the matter.
"I have been doing this case pro-bono since 2000. Please grant us 15 minutes time from 3.45 to 4 PM today...If the court is not convinced, then throw us out," Salve said.
The bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel, did not allow the plea and asked the probe agency to file a review petition with all the points which have been left out.
The moves comes a day after the apex court denied a jail term for the Ansal brothers – Sushil and Gopal - but directed them to pay a fine of Rs 30 crore each within a three months to the Delhi government.
The SC ruling had utterly disappointed the victims of the Uphaar fire tragedy and they have now decided to file a review petition along with the CBI in connection with the case. Neelam Krishnamoorthy, mother of Uphaar victims and one of the petitioners in the case said, “f we don't challenge this order then it will set a very wrong precedent.”
Overturning the pleas of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the victims’ association, a three-judge bench of justices AR Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel on Wednesday asked Sushil and Gopal Ansal to pay the total fine of Rs 60 crore in three months and deposit it with the Delhi government, which in turn will spend the money on welfare schemes.
While Sushil had spent over five months in prison, Gopal was in jail for over four months immediately after the tragedy.
The bench rejected the submissions of senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for CBI, 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 KTS Tulsi, who represented the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), also 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 in South Delhi, had died of asphyxia following the fire and over 100 were injured in the subsequent stampede on 13 June 1997 during the screening of Bollywood film “Border”.
Earlier, a bench of justices TS Thakur and Gyan Sudha Mishra (since retired) had on 5 March 2014, held real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal guilty, but differed on the quantum 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 on 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 the former 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 as the fire had been caused by a faulty DVB transformer.
The CBI had filed an appeal challenging the alteration in conviction and reduction of sentence by the Delhi high court on 19 December 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.
With PTI inputs