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[Uphaar Fire] Suspending Sentence Of Ansal Brothers Would Amount To Eroding Faith Of Public In Judicial System: Delhi HC In Evidence Tampering Case

Nupur Thapliyal
16 Feb 2022 12:50 PM GMT
[Uphaar Fire] Suspending Sentence Of Ansal Brothers Would Amount To Eroding Faith Of Public In Judicial System: Delhi HC In Evidence Tampering Case
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The Delhi High Court has observed that suspending the seven year jail term awarded to real estate barons, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal in the evidence tampering case in Uphaar fire tragedy of 1997 would amount to eroding the faith of the public in the judicial system as it would entail allowing convicts to take advantage of the passage of time as well as the judiciary as an...

The Delhi High Court has observed that suspending the seven year jail term awarded to real estate barons, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal in the evidence tampering case in Uphaar fire tragedy of 1997 would amount to eroding the faith of the public in the judicial system as it would entail allowing convicts to take advantage of the passage of time as well as the judiciary as an institution.

Justice Subramonium Prasad therefore dismissed Ansals' pleas seeking suspension of their seven-year jail term. The Court however allowed the petition filed by co convict Anoop Singh Karayat.

"This Court is of the opinion that suspending the sentence of the Petitioners would, therefore, amount to eroding the faith of the public in the judicial system as it would entail allowing convicts, whose finding of guilt has already been established, to take advantage of the passage of time as well as the judiciary as an institution," the Court said.

It added "This Court is of the view that cases of this nature should be heard and decided at the earliest as any delay in dealing with the same will only make people lose faith in the cherished institution, that is the judiciary. The Petitioners herein inhabit the stigma of desecrating the temple of justice and a quietus needs to be put to the same. If they are ultimately found to be innocent in the instant case, this stigma has to be removed at the earliest."

The Court was of the view that the Ansals were found guilty of tampering with evidence that was in the custody of the Court. It added that had the tampering not been brought to the notice of the Court, the same would have had the effect of interfering with the administration of justice.

The Court therefore said that the Trial Court order was well-considered and comprehensive, and did not suffer from any patent infirmity.

"This Court is not going in-depth into the matter or analysing the correctness or otherwise of the judgment of the Ld. Trial Court regarding conviction of the Petitioners herein lest it will have the effect of prejudice to the rights of the parties. Accordingly, it cannot be said that there is patent infirmity in the Order of the Ld. Trial Court. The Ld. Appellate Court has also applied its mind while considering the application under Section 389 Cr.P.C and has gone through records of the case and has come to a conclusion that considering the nature of offence, the antecedents of the convicts, the impact on public confidence in courts, and importantly, in the absence of any extraordinary circumstances meriting suspension of sentence, the sentence of the Petitioners herein cannot be suspended during the pendency of Appeal," the Court said.

It added "Considering this fact, the Ld. Appellate Court is requested to expedite and complete the hearing of the appeals filed by the Petitioners herein within a period of one month from the date of this Order and, if necessary, conduct day-to-day hearings for the same, and to expeditiously pronounce the judgement after concluding the hearing of the appeals filed by the Petitioners herein."

Regarding Anoop Singh, the Court allowed his petition taking into account fact that he was not arrested during the pendency of trial as well as the fact that he was 73 years of age, having no previous antecedents. 

Accordingly, the Court suspended his sentence during the pendency of the appeal on the Petitioner subject to him furnishing a personal bond in the sum of Rs. 1,00,000 with two sureties in the like amount.

"The petitioner shall not leave NCT of Delhi without the prior permission of the Court. He shall also surrender his passport in the Trial Court, if not already surrendered," the Court said.

It added "The Ld. Trial Court is, therefore, requested to expedite the hearing of the appeal filed by the Petitioner herein and conclude the same within a period of one month from the date of this Order and if necessary, conduct day-to-day hearing for the same and after concluding the hearing, pronounce the judgment as expeditiously as possible. If it is found that the Petitioner herein is trying to delay the proceedings, it is open to the State as well as to AVUT to approach this Court for cancellation of suspension of sentence during pendency of the Petitioner‟s appeal."

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.

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) 117

Click Here To Read Order 


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