New Delhi: The Supreme Court has said that the magnitude of the Uphaar fire tragedy may call for "higher sentence" but it could not go beyond the choices under the law while sentencing brothers and real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal who own the Uphaar cinema hall.
"We are conscious of the fact that matter of this magnitude may call for a higher sentence, but the court has to limit itself to the choice available under the law," said Justice Anil R. Dave, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.
Their judgment`s operative part was pronounced on August 19 but reasoning was given on September 22 and made available on Wednesday.
The apex court on August 19 let off the Ansal brothers saying both would pay Rs.30 crore each coupled with the sentence they had already undergone.
The three-judge bench was asked to decide on the quantum of sentence after divergent positions taken by Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra (since retired) on the quantum of punishment.
Referring to the "undisputed facts" and saying that the maximum sentence that could be awarded to Ansal brothers was two years, the court said: "We are concerned with imposition of sentence in a criminal case and not with awarding damages in a civil case. Principles for deciding both are different."
Having said that its hands were tied by law, the court said: "It hardly needs to be mentioned that an appropriate sentence has to be awarded by taking into consideration the gravity of offence, the manner of commission, the age of the accused and other mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
"The sentence should neither be excessively harsh nor ridiculously low."
Imposing a fine of Rs.30 crore each on the Ansal brothers, the court said: "We are in agreement with the view expressed by Misra that the sentence awarded by the high court needs to be enhanced to the maximum period of two years under Section 304-A but in lieu of additional period of sentence of one year, the substantial amount of fine needs to be imposed."
"Thus, we are of the considered opinion that ends of justice would meet if the appellants are directed to pay the fine so that the amount can be used either for the purpose of setting up a Trauma Centre in NCT of Delhi or for upgrading Trauma Centres of Hospitals managed in NCT of Delhi by the government of Delhi."
Judges Thakur and Misra in their March 5, 2014 verdict, while upholding the conviction of Ansal brothers, differed on the quantum of sentencing. On account of divergence on sentencing, the matter was referred to three-judges bench to decide on the quantum of sentence.
Justice Thakur, upholding the Delhi High Court verdict, said both Ansals would undergo a sentence of one year each as awarded by the high court.
Justice Misra, while holding that the Ansals deserve "no leniency", said they should undergo the maximum sentence of two years.
However, Justice Misra substituted the second year sentence with a fine of Rs.100 crore to be divided equally between the brothers, which she had said would be used for setting up trauma centre in Dwarka.
The trial court had awarded the Ansal brothers two years` imprisonment but it was reduced to one year by the high court in 2008.