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Uphaar Fire Tragedy: Delhi High Court Dismisses Ansal Brothers' Pleas Seeking Suspension Of Sentence In Evidence Tampering Case

Nupur Thapliyal
16 Feb 2022 5:21 AM GMT
Uphaar Fire Tragedy: Delhi High Court Dismisses Ansal Brothers Pleas Seeking Suspension Of Sentence In Evidence Tampering Case
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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday dismissed the pleas filed by real estate barons, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, seeking suspension of their seven-year jail term in the evidence tampering case in connection with the Uphaar fire tragedy that happened in the year 1997.Justice Subramonium Prasad however allowed the petition filed by Anoop Singh Karayat. The Court passed the order after reserving...

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday dismissed the pleas filed by real estate barons, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, seeking suspension of their seven-year jail term in the evidence tampering case in connection with the Uphaar fire tragedy that happened in the year 1997.

Justice Subramonium Prasad however allowed the petition filed by Anoop Singh Karayat. The Court passed the order after reserving it last month.

"The judgments will be uploaded by the evening," said the Judge.

Ansals had challenged the order passed by Additional Sessions Judge Anil Antil dated December 3, 2021 who had observed that the offence was an outcome of a calculated design on the part of Ansals to interfere with the course of justice.

The Trial Court was also of the view that age by itself cannot be the sole criteria to grant relief to the appellants when they were involved into the procrastinated trial of the case.

Sushil Ansal is aged 83 years and Gopal Ansal is aged about 73 years.

Arguments Put Forth

It was argued by the Delhi Police that Ansals had made every attempt to delay the trial in the matter.

The prosecution had primarily contended that the Ansal brothers were themselves responsible for a delayed trial by indulging in tampering of evidence, and hence, they could not now seek suspension of their jail term.

It was argued that there is no presumption of innocence, the Ansal brothers had been convicted for an offence for doing something illegal, therefore their plea for suspension of jail term should not be allowed. 

The prosecution further argued that the brothers had entered into the conspiracy to obtain a favourable verdict and this conspiracy was unearthed when the mutilated documents were discovered.

On the other hand, it was argued on behalf of Ansals that while there is no such thing as presumption of innocence after conviction, but no system considers first conviction as final. It was added that the very presence of Section 389 in CrPC (releasing appellant on bail, while suspension of sentence pending the appeal) means that there is "no presumption of continued incarceration" while the appeal is pending.

It was contended that the appellate court, like the trial court, has to be satisfied affirmatively that the prosecution case is substantially true and the guilt of the accused has been proved beyond all reasonable doubt as "the presumption of innocence with which the accused starts, continues right through until he is held guilty by the final court of appeal and that presumption is neither strengthened by an acquittal nor weakened by a conviction in the trial court."

It was also submitted that the prosecution has "reverse engineered" an alleged conspiracy for their benefit and that there was no actual delay in the proceedings, nor any benefit from the alleged delay.

Background

CMM Pankaj Sharma had passed the order on sentencing after the Ansals and others were convicted under Sections 201 (tampering of evidence), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code on October 8.

The Court also held a former court staff and other individuals guilty in the matter. It also imposed a fine of Rs. 3 lacs each on others namely Dinesh Chandra Sharma, Prem Prakash Batra and Anoop Singh.

In its order, the Court was of the view that the documents which were tampered with by the accused persons formed the basis of their conviction in the main Uphaar case. It was of the view that those documents were "most critical" for the trial in order to establish their role and position.

The Court had said that the manner in which process of law was subjected to desecration by accused persons is no less than defiling the justice administration system.

"The high handedness of the accused persons for securing benefit in the trial sans documents by any means demonstrate the scant regard which they have for the justice delivery system which is the bedrock of our democracy. The brazen attitude of the accused persons is reflective from their conduct as after destruction of evidence they vehemently opposed the prosecution plea for adducing secondary evidence. They left no stone unturned to prevent advent of secondary evidence," the Court had said.

The matter pertains to the tampering of evidence in connection with the fire tragedy case wherein the Ansals were convicted and sentenced by the Supreme Court.

As many as 59 people died and 100 were injured in the fire during the screening of Hindi blockbuster Border on the evening of June 13, 1997.

The fire started in the parking lot and then engulfed the building in the busy Green Park area.

Most people died in the ensuing stampede or were asphyxiated as the escape routes were blocked by illegally fixed chairs. The trial court had sentenced the duo to two years' rigorous imprisonment in November 2007.

Case Title: Sushil Ansal v. State

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Del) 119

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