The Delhi High Court on Friday granted relief to real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal reducing the sentence awarded to them in the Uphaar Cinema fire case from two years to one year.
Now, it becomes easier for them to secure bail. Shocked family members and relatives of many of the victims who had gathered in the court hoping that the punishment would be enhanced dubbed the verdict a “travesty of justice”.
In all, 59 people were killed when the theatre, located in south Delhi, caught fire on June 13, 1997. The fire was caused by a short circuit in the basement generator during the matinee show of Hindi blockbuster Border.
A Patiala House court had sentenced the Ansals brothers, the owner of the cinema, to two years of imprisonment on November 23 this year, after finding them guilty of causing death due to rash and negligent act and under the Cinematography Act.
Delivering the 538-page judgment in a packed courtroom, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat upheld their conviction observing “a series of decisions taken by them led to breach of several mandatory norms, which blocked easy exit from the balcony”. As leaders of the enterprise, they were under a full time duty to ensure the viewers’ safety at all times.
The court, however, reduced the sentence taking into account “mitigating factors” put forth by Ansals that they were both of advanced age with no previous criminal record and were respectable members of the society.
Sushil, 71, and Gopal, 62, are lodged in Tihar Jail since September this year after the Supreme Court cancelled their bail for their alleged role in tampering with evidence.
The attempt by the Ansal brothers to distance themselves from the incident stating they had severed all links with the theatre since 1988 did not impress Justice Bhat who noted there was evidence that they were at the helm of affairs. The judge also reduced the jail terms of the three electricity and fire department officials and the gatekeeper of the cinema hall while acquitting five others.