Uphaar fire: From 2 years jail to 1 to freedom, how the Ansals’ lot changed

The judge had held the brothers were “in real and effective control of the theatre and management of the company”.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Updated: August 20, 2015 6:55 am
Uphaar fire, Uphaar fire tragedy, Uphaar fire victims, Uphaar fire tragedy victims, Uphaar cinema fire, uphaar cinema, uphaar, delhi fire, ansal brothers, sushil ansal, gopal ansal, delhi news, india news, news The Photograph of the worst fire tragedy happened on Friday, 13 June 1997 at Uphaar Cinema, Green Park,Delhi, during the 3-to-6 pm screening of the movie Border. 59 people died in this fire. (Source: Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

From being called a “menace” to getting a reduced jail sentence to being allowed to walk free with a fine, the legal fortunes of the Ansal brothers have successively improved over an 18-year trial for the Uphaar fire.

On Thursday in the Supreme Court, they not only escaped a stringent charge under IPC section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) that could have fetched them life terms but also succeeded in avoiding the two-year jail term prescribed as the maximum under Section 304A (causing death due to negligence).

Also read: Ansal brothers walk free, Supreme Court rules Rs 60-cr fine adequate

In November 2007, a sessions judge convicting them had blamed their “greed” for causing the fire. “The deviations with regard to the seating arrangement in the balcony, which resulted in the death of many patrons and injuries to many, had been effected with greed in mind without taking note of the injury that may be caused,” sessions judge Mamta Sehgal had said.

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The judge had held the brothers were “in real and effective control of the theatre and management of the company”. Holding them responsible for various structural deviations, the court said they “connived” with administrative authorities and corrupted them to utilise every corner of the building for more profits, without concern for the safety of patrons. “An entrepreneur who corrupts the official of the government is a menace to the society,” the judge said, sentencing them to two years but underlining that the two-year jail term was “not sufficient” for incidents like this.

After the brothers appealed, Delhi High Court agreed with the trial court on various structural and fire safety deviations. “When a large body of persons such as cinema viewers are closeted in a fully enclosed space having limited exits and who were virtually entrusting their life and well-being to owners of the cinema, who effectively managed it, the duty of such owners is a very high one, even in normal circumstances. In this case the risk factors kept increasing with each departure from the norms.”

Also read: A basement with charred cars, a hall without light for 18 years

Yet it said “imposition of the maximum sentence is not justified. Ends of justice would be served if the sentence is modified to rigorous imprisonment for a period of one year and fine Rs 5,000 under section 304-A.” It also rejected a plea by the victims to charge them with culpable homicide.

The Ansals as well as Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) appealed in the Supreme Court. In March 2014, Justices T S Thakur and Gyan Sudha Misra were unanimous that the Ansal brothers had “contemptuous disregard” for the law and affirmed their conviction.

“The brothers were at the helm of affairs at the time of the tragedy and therefore they cannot escape the blame and pass it on to others, including the municipal or electricity authorities. They owed a duty of care to the people who went to the cinema,” said Justice Thakur, adding the deaths were mainly due to the inability of the victims to exit the cinema hall.

Also read: From the fire to the fine

Justice Misra too held the brothers guilty of “gross criminal negligence”.

But the two judges differed on the sentencing. Justice Thakur said it should be one year each while Justice Misra said it should be two years each, with the second year substituted with a fine of Rs 100 crore to be paid equally by the brothers. She also directed that in view of his advanced age, Sushil Ansal’s jail term would be what he has already undergone.

The matter was referred to a three-judge bench, which held Wednesday that no further jail term was called for.

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  1. P
    Pathetic
    Aug 20, 2015 at 8:12 am
    Judges should be sent to body bags. What happened to the 94 children of the Kumbakonam CHILDREN MACRE that were BURNT ALIVE at even before they came to know about the criminal country that India is. No wonder there is rebellion all over. And that will be quelled using official THUGS CALLED POLICE AND ARMY.
    Reply
    1. R
      RDayal
      Aug 26, 2015 at 10:15 am
      The judgement does not deal with culpable homicide angle. It surely has to be reviewed. Have different way of arguing .It is not the building but intention of building a place unsafe for public use. A review is a must and has to be drafted peoperly.
      Reply
      1. T
        Toldyou
        Aug 20, 2015 at 6:10 am
        Told you: IT IS SUPREME CORRUPT(SC) OF INDIA
        Reply
        1. S
          Sojourn
          Aug 20, 2015 at 6:16 am
          Imposition of maximum sentence is not justified because we az Z a judge was sent to Mauritius for a sojourn with a Mumbai model and for European tour arranged by the so called patriotic intelligence agencies under their very nose.
          Reply
          1. l
            leo-7 watching
            Aug 20, 2015 at 9:31 am
            Indian judicial system needs urgent reforms where the corrupt money bags are sent for life behind bars for such gross greed negligence and MURDER OF INNOCENTS .
            Reply
            1. l
              leo-7 watching
              Aug 20, 2015 at 9:33 am
              THE HIGHEST COURT OF THE LAND HAS GIVEN A DEPLORABLE SIGNAL TO THE MES . DO NOT KNOCK AT THE SUPREME COURT DOORS FOR JUSTICE BECAUSE , LET IT BE JUNGLE RAJ BETTER TO PICK UP GUN AND SORT YOUR GRIEVANCES .
              Reply
              1. R
                radar
                Aug 20, 2015 at 6:25 am
                When money talks sh.t walks . Indian Judicial system compromised once again . Money can buy mostly anything in this holy country of ours . I hang my head in shame.
                Reply
                1. S
                  sanjeeb
                  Aug 20, 2015 at 9:40 am
                  Politicians Police Bureaucrats Judges = A Complete Corruption Cycle.
                  Reply
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