Uphaar case: Court orders release of Ansals brothers
Five people, including the two Ansal brothers, were convicted by a court in the case in October 2021. On Monday, the court had upheld the conviction of four accused, the Ansals, Dinesh Chandra Sharma and PP Batra, and set aside the conviction of Anoop Singh.
A day after upholding their conviction for tampering with the evidence related to the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire case, a Delhi court released real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal on Tuesday taking note of their ‘old age and ailments’.
The court, however, imposed a fine of ₹3 crore on each of them to be paid within seven days, modifying the earlier fine of ₹2.25 crore levied on the Ansals by a magisterial court while sentencing them in November 2021.
Sushil is 83 years old and Gopal is 74.
District judge Dharmesh Sharma said that the seven-year-jail term awarded to the Ansals in the evidence tampering case in November last year “is not only harsh, onerous but also disproportionate to the offence committed by them”.
Besides the Ansals, the court also directed the release of Ansal’s employee, PP Batra, and former court staff Dinesh Chand Sharma against the jail term undergone by them in judicial custody, but imposed a fine of ₹30,000 on Batra and ₹60,000 on Sharma while modifying the earlier fine of ₹3 lakh each.
Five people, including the two Ansal brothers, were convicted by a court in the case in October 2021. On Monday, the court had upheld the conviction of four accused, the Ansals, Dinesh Chandra Sharma and PP Batra, and set aside the conviction of Anoop Singh. While Batra and Singh worked for the real estate barons, Sharma was a court staff.
“The proportionality test in criminal jurisprudence in the instant case by no stretch of imagination could be applied in a manner so as to make the Ansals suffer greater punishment than they have actually served for the crime (tampering),” the judge said.
He said that the “whole tone and tenor” of the magistrate’s sentencing order shows that it was, by all parameters, “punitive” and “retributive” in nature so as to teach a lesson to the appellants Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal.
“Considering the nature of the crime, the social and economic status of the appellants convicts, the duration of crime committed and ultimate impact on the speed of the trial in the main Uphaar case, and also considering the mitigating circumstances brought forth by the counsel for the appellants, this court finds that the quantum of sentence of imprisonment awarded by the trial court is not only harsh, onerous but also disproportionate to the offence committed,” the district court said in the order.
“The impugned order on sentence (Nov 8, 2021) absolutely sidelined the criminal jurisprudence on sentencing that envisages punishment in proportion to the crime committed and sentence with the avowed object of deterrence and reformation,” the judge said in its order on sentence.
In its judgment, the court noted that the fire tragedy was one that must have caused deep anguish, pain and perennial misery to affected family members, but added that the whole criminal litigation cannot be converted by the prosecution into a “inhuman and vindictive approach to the appellants/convicts”.
At least 59 people lost their lives and over 100 were injured in the stampede after a fire broke out at the Uphaar cinema on June 13, 1997 during the screening of JP Dutta’s film ‘Border’.
In the main fire case, the Ansals were convicted and sentenced to two years in jail by the Supreme Court in August 2015. The apex court had, however, released them for the period already undergone in the jail, on the condition that they paid a fine of ₹30 crore each which will be used for building a trauma centre in the national Capital.
Soon after the judgment, Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost her two children in the incident and is president of the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), broke down in the court saying that it was “injustice” and that she had lost faith in the judiciary.
“This is complete injustice. We cannot have faith in the judiciary if the accused is rich and powerful,” she said before storming out of the courtroom.
The judge said that it is “not oblivious of public sentiments” or for that matter the sentiments of victims, including Krishnamoorthy, but the instant case does not involve only the Ansals, however, “notorious” they might be.
“It is more importantly about appellants Dinesh Chandra Sharma and PP Batra. Considering the long years of service in the justice delivery system and experience, to my mind the worst culprit in this case was Dinesh Chandra Sharma, who fell prey to the criminal conspiracy hatched by the appellants (Ansals) to cause disappearance of vital pieces of evidence,” it said.
According to the prosecution, during the trial of the case, the Ansals and five others, including Sharma, had torn and defaced crucial documents to secure their acquittal. The tampering was detected for the first time on July 20, 2002. A departmental enquiry was initiated against Sharma and he was suspended. Later, an enquiry was conducted and he was terminated from services on June 25, 2004.
According to the charge sheet, the documents tampered with included a police memo detailing the recoveries immediately after the incident, the Delhi Fire Service records regarding the repair of the transformer installed inside the cinema hall, minutes of managing director’s meetings and four cheques.