The Supreme Court refused on Thursday to strike down the jail term of Delhi-based builder Gopal Ansal, who has been sentenced to one-year imprisonment for a fire in south Delhi’s Uphaar Cinema that killed 59 people 20 years ago.
A special bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi refused to alter its February verdict that sent Gopal to jail for a year. The businessman has already spent a little over four months in Tihar, and he is required to serve seven more months in jail.
The court, however, gave him time more time to surrender, even as the earlier deadline expired on Thursday. He has to present himself before the jail authorities by March 20.
The bench also disallowed the victims’ request to send Sushil Ansal, Gopal’s elder brother, behind the bars. Although the court found Sushil guilty, it had sentenced him to just the period he already served in jail. The 76-year-old was given relief due to his age.
Justice Gogoi had on Wednesday refused to adjourn the hearing of Gopal’s application by a week and declined to give him more time to surrender.
Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani wanted the bench to postpone the hearing because he was in Pune for two days. He had asked the court to extend the surrender deadline till the next hearing.
However, the bench declined his plea and said the bench would dispose of Gopal’s application on Thursday.
The victims’ association (AVUT) claimed both Sushil and Gopal were healthy and demanded that they be sent to jail to serve the remaining sentence.
The owners, an investigation had found, added extra seats that blocked one of the exits, preventing the victims –- 23 of them minors -- from escaping the burning hall after a fire broke out in the transformer room. Most of the victims were asphyxiated.
Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy (AVUT) vs
Ansal Theatre and Clubotels
- June 13, 1997: 59 people die of asphyxia as a fire breaks out in south Delhi’s Uphaar cinema during the screening of the Hindi movie "Border". Over 100 were injured in the subsequent stampede.
- July 22, 1997: Theatre owner Sushil Ansal and his son Pranav arrested in Mumbai by the crime branch of Delhi police.
- Nov 15, 1997: CBI files chargesheet against 16 accused, including Uphaar owners Sushil and Gopal Ansal.
- Feb 27, 2001: Court frames charges against the accused under various sections, including sections 304 (culpable homicide), 304A (causing death by negligent act) and 337 (hurt) of the IPC.
- Jan 27, 2003: Ansals file a plea, seeking repossession of the theatre rejected on the ground that place of incident is to be preserved to appreciate evidence.
- April 24, 2003: Delhi high court awards Rs 180 million compensation to be paid to the relatives of victims.
- Nov 20, 2007: Court convicts all 12 accused, including Sushil and Gopal Ansal, in the case and sentences them to two years imprisonment.
- Jan 4, 2008: Delhi High Court grants bail to Ansal brothers and two other accused.
- Sep 11, 2008: Ansals sent to Tihar Jail after Supreme Court cancels their bail.
- Dec 19, 2008: Delhi high court upholds trial court order, convicting Ansal brothers but reduces their sentence from two years to one year.
- Jan 30, 2009: Supreme court grants bail to Ansal brothers.
- Oct 13, 2011: SC delivers Verdict on compensation case, criminal case against 6 accused -- including Ansal brothers -- is still on at the apex court
- Oct 9, 2012: Victims of the Uphaar tragedy refuse to accept Ansals’ offer to pay for more damages in lieu of ending the 15-year-old criminal case against the Ansal brothers.
- March 5, 2014: SC holds Sushil and Gopal Ansal guilty of criminal negligence in the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire, but leaves it to another bench to decide their punishment.
- Aug 10, 2015: Former Chief Justice of India HL Dattu constitutes a three-judge special bench to decide on the quantum of punishment that should be given to the Ansal brothers.
- Feb 9, 2017: SC orders one year in jail for Gopal Ansal and gives him four weeks to surrender. Sushil Ansal to stay out of jail because of his age. Both brothers still have to pay a fine of Rs 30 crore each.