Facing jail term for a year, real estate baron Gopal Ansal’s petition for Presidential pardon has reached the doorstep of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). In his plea, Ansal’s counsel urged President Pranab Mukherjee to take a lenient view on the ground of his old age and waive the remainder of his sentence, upheld by the Supreme Court in February this year.
Based on his appeal, the President’s secretariat sought an opinion from the home minister Rajnath Singh. Gopal Ansal, 69, and his elder brother Sushil Ansal, 77, were investigated by the CBI for their roles in the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire tragedy in which 59 persons died during the screening of the film, Border.
North Block officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they are holding consultations with the Delhi government and will also seek its opinion. In his plea, Gopal said he is suffering from medical problems and his health is more brittle than his brother’s. He reportedly stated that he is suffering from age-related cerebral atrophy and hearing impairment. Gopal, according to his petition, had already spent over six months in jail.
A senior home ministry official further clarified, “Gopal Ansal’s petition is being examined and as Delhi is a union territory with a legislature, we have asked for an opinion from the Delhi government and legal experts. A decision will be taken soon.” The fine of Rs 60 crore imposed by the Supreme Court on Ansals was earlier deposited with the Delhi government.
Gopal surrendered before Tihar jail authorities in March this year and had already spent over four months in prison following the rejection of his plea by the SC. The apex court didn’t send his brother Sushil to jail due to his advanced age and counted the time he had spent behind bars earlier as his punishment. The brothers are also facing trial in a separate case of alleged tampering, registered by Delhi Police in 2006.
Neelam Krishnamurthy, whose son and daughter died in the fire, told The Indian Express, “I will be shocked if he is granted pardon. Already the court has let us down by giving one-year jail term to only one of the convicts. He (Gopal) is also not doing any labour inside prison. If this happens, it will be a letdown for the victims.”
On February 9, the top court had granted relief to Sushil Ansal and had asked Gopal to surrender in four weeks to serve the remaining jail term. The SC, in March, dismissed the petition seeking parity with his elder brother Sushil.
A two-judge bench of the apex court had on March 5, 2014 held Sushil and Gopal guilty, but differed on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to them after which the matter was heard by a three-judge bench. The CBI had also opposed the plea to keep Ansal out of jail, saying he had already cited the medical condition before the court gave its February 9 verdict.