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Uphaar fire tragedy: SC reserves order on pleas seeking review of 2015 verdict

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for CBI, said the fines are imposed additionally and they cannot substitute "substantive" jail term awarded to convicts in a case.

By: PTI | New Delhi |
December 14, 2016 11:56:32 pm
uphaar cinema, uphaar fire tragedy, uphaar fire, uphaar cinema fire, uphaar green park, uphaar, delhi fire, ansal brothers, sushil ansal, gopal ansal, delhi cinema fire, delhi news Uphaar cinema tragedy in 1997 killed 59 people. (File Photo)

The Supreme Court today reserved its verdict on pleas of CBI and the victims’ body seeking review of the 2015 verdict in the Uphaar fire tragedy case asking real estate barons Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal to serve a two-year jail term if they fail to pay Rs 30 crore each as fine. The probe agency and the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) have sought review of the apex court verdict, delivered on August 19, 2015, sending Ansal brothers to two years rigorous jail term if they fail to pay Rs 30 crore each within three months. The convicts have already paid the fine.

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A three-judge bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel reserved the judgement on the review pleas after hearing two-hour-long arguments, advanced by counsel for CBI, AVUT and Ansal brothers.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for CBI, said the fines are imposed additionally and they cannot substitute “substantive” jail term awarded to convicts in a case.

“Fine in lieu of conviction is alien in criminal jurisprudence,” he said, noting that while hearing the appeals against the high court verdict, the apex court had ordered “substantive conviction” by saying that the fine imposed can be “only be additional”.

“Enhancement of sentence, subject to fine, is erroneous in law,” Salve said.

Taking note of the submission, the bench said, “If you (Salve) are right in the first point we will not have to go any further.”

Senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for Ansal brothers, said the core issue was the sentence which comprised both jail term and fine.

“This long saga must come to an end. Four more months of jail term will not make much difference,” he said.

Senior advocate K T S Tulsi, appearing for AVUT, said that the waiver of remaining jail term on payment of fines was not justified.

59 people had died of asphyxia when a fire broke out during the screening of Bollywood movie ‘Border’ in Uphaar theatre in Green Park area of South Delhi on June 13, 1997. Over 100 were also injured in the subsequent stampede.

The apex court had on December 5 asked the Ansal brothers not to leave India till it disposes of the review pleas after AVUT cited a media report about their possibility of leaving the country in the absence of a restraint order from it.

AVUT, through its President Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who had lost her two teenaged children in the blaze, had cited a media report that the onvicts were “on the verge of fleeing the country”.

The victims’ body had also mentioned the review plea for urgent hearing before a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur who said a new bench would be constituted to hear the review petitions filed by CBI and the association.

Prior to that, a bench headed by Justice A R Dave, now retired, had decided to hear in open court the petitions filed by CBI and AVUT seeking review of the 2015 verdict.

Following the judgement, Sushil and Gopal Ansal had deposited Rs 30 crore each to avoid the jail term.

In its review plea, AVUT had said the apex court judgement “bestows an unwarranted leniency on convicts whose conviction in the most heinous of offences has been upheld by all courts including this court and sentences imposed on them have been substituted with fine without assigning any reason”.

“The sentences of the convicts have been reduced to the period undergone without taking into account the gravity of their offence,” it had said.

CBI, in its review plea, had said the apex court did not give it time to put its views forth which resulted in “miscarriage of justice”.

The agency has said, “Due to the paucity of time on the day on which this case was heard, the prosecution could not adequately put across the reasons why this court should not substitute jail sentence with a monetary fine.

“This petition also seeks to raise issue of an apparent error of law in the judgement and order of this court which has occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice,” it said.

CBI had also claimed that “callousness” of the Ansal brothers led to 59 people being trapped and suffocated to death in the theatre.

The apex court had on August 19, 2015 sent the Ansal brothers to two years rigorous jail term if they failed to pay Rs 30 crore each within three months.

In a judgement on September 23, 2015, the bench had said the “magnitude” of the case “calls for a higher sentence” but the court has to limit itself to the choice available under the law.

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