OVER A year after it held that Sushil and Gopal Ansal — owners of Uphaar cinema in which 59 people were killed in a blaze — were too old to be sentenced to a further jail term, the Supreme Court Thursday sent younger brother Gopal back to prison to serve the remainder of his one-year imprisonment. Gopal is now expected to undergo further jail term of around five months.
By a 2:1 majority, two of the three judges on the bench said Gopal, unlike his elder brother, did not have any age-related medical complications and, hence, he could not be treated on parity with Sushil, who is now 77. Gopal is 69. The brothers have been held guilty of “criminal negligence” under Section 304-A of the IPC which prescribes two years in jail as the maximum punishment. Shekhar and Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost their daughter Unnati (17) and son Ujwal (13) in the June 13, 1997, incident and had been spearheading the legal battle for the victims, called the judgment “extremely disappointing”.
The couple said: “We blamed the Ansals in 1997 when our children died. Today, we say that we have been the victims of an inefficient justice delivery system. It is not justice. What kind of precedents has the top court set? Everyone who has the paying capacity or is above 70, should now be released from prison.”
After the verdict, senior lawyer Salman Khurshid, who appeared for the real estate barons, submitted in the court: “We again express our remorse and regret. And we hope this judgment brings the closure to the case.” In its August 2015 judgment, a three-judge bench, which was headed by Justice Anil R Dave and included Justices Kurian Joseph and Adarsh K Goel, had noted that Sushil was “fairly aged” and his younger brother deserved “parity” with him.
This view, however, changed Thursday when the bench, now headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi owing to retirement of Justice Dave, said that the order of sentencing Gopal to one year in jail has to be “maintained” without treating him on par with his elder sibling. “On principle of parity, the same benefit was extended to A-2-Gopal Ansal; but he never had a case of any age-related complications. Therefore, it is not a case to apply the principle of parity. To that extent, the order needs to be reviewed,” held the majority, while partly allowing the review petitions moved against the 2015 verdict by the CBI and the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT).
The bench noted that Sushil has already undergone nine months in jail, including remission, and also in view of his age-related health issues, there was no need to send him back to jail.
While ordering Gopal to surrender within four weeks to serve the remaining jail term, the court also upheld its 2015 judgment on directing the real estate barons to pay Rs 30 crore each as fine, which is to be utilised for setting up a trauma centre in the capital.
“With regard to the gravity of the offence and the illegal gains made by the accused, the fine imposed to the tune of Rs 60 crore is not excessive. The idea was to impose a heavy fine and utilise the same for the benefit of the public… the punishment which would serve deterrence and public purpose by both imprisonment and exemplary fine, would be an appropriate punishment in a case like this,” said the court.
June 13, 1997: 59 die of asphyxia, over 100 suffer injuries in stampede after fire breaks out
1997: Probe & arrest
July 22: Uphaar owner Sushil Ansal arrested
July 24: CBI takes over
Nov 15: Chargesheet against 16 accused, including owners Gopal and Sushil Ansal
Feb 2001: Court frames charges under IPC sections for culpable homicide, causing death by negligence and violation of Cinematograph Act
Nov 20, 2007: Court convicts 12 accused; Ansals sentenced to 2 yrs in jail
Jan 4, 2008: Delhi HC grants bail to Ansals
Sep 11: SC cancels bail; Ansals sent to Tihar Jail
April 17, 2013: SC reserves order on appeals of Ansals, CBI, AVUT
Mar 5, 2014: One judge awards one year, another sentences Ansals
Aug 19, 2015: SC allows Ansals to walk free after paying a fine of Rs 60 cr