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Uphaar Tragedy- Should Ansal Brothers Be Out During Pendency Of Appeal When A Court Has Already Found Them Guilty?: Delhi HC

Sparsh Upadhyay
19 Jan 2022 12:38 PM GMT
Uphaar Tragedy- Should Ansal Brothers Be Out During Pendency Of Appeal When A Court Has Already Found Them Guilty?: Delhi HC
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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday continued the hearing in the plea filed by real estate barons Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, seeking suspension of their seven-year jail terms in the evidence tampering case in connection with the Uphaar fire tragedy that happened in the year 1997.During the course of the hearing, the Bench of Justice Subramonium Prasad stressed that the instant case...

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

During the course of the hearing, the Bench of Justice Subramonium Prasad stressed that the instant case related to the tampering with the evidence inside the court and that too, by the persons who belong to rich and powerful strata of society

In this backdrop, the Court made two points

  • If it is a fact that the documents have been tampered with, the Justice must be swift
  • If it is a fact that they haven't tampered then the stigma from the accused has to be removed.

"Whether such persons who have already been found guilty by one court, should they be out during the pendency of the appeal...This is what is going on in my head," the Court prima facie observed as it asked the parties to keep this point in focus when rejoinder is filed.

It may be noted that Ansal Brothers have already been found guilty of tampering with evidence to escape their liability in the Uphaar Fire Tragedy case, by the Delhi Court and they have preferred an appeal against the Delhi Court's order, before the Delhi High Court. The Delhi HC is currently hearing their Section 389 CrPC application (Suspension of sentence pending the appeal; release of appellant on bail).

The Ansals have 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.

Details regarding previous hearing could be read here: Ansal Brothers Delayed Trial By Tampering Evidence, Can't Seek Benefit Of Old Age: Prosecution Opposes Suspension Of Sentence In Delhi HC

Arguments put forth

Today, Senior Advocate Dayan Krishnan appearing for the prosecution, primarily contended that the Ansal brothers were at the helm of the affairs of the Uphaar Cinema where the alleged tragedy had occurred in the year 1997 and the intention to temper with the evidence was to show that they weren't managing the Uphaar Cinema affairs.

It was further argued by him that they were signing cheques, attending meetings related to the company (Ansal club limited) that managed Uphar Cinema and such documents were plucked/removed from the official records to escape liability.

He also argued that the Lower Court had already noted that a strong motive existed for the accused to get the documents tampered with as those documents reflected the culpability of the Ansal brothers in managing the affairs of the companies and that there can be none other than three appellants/accused out of 16 others also could have benefited by such tampering/mutilating of documents

"Gopal Ansal was in full control of the affairs of the Uphaar Cinema"

It was the primary contention of the prosecution, led by Senior Advocate Dayan Krishnan that only those documents were removed/tempered with that pertained to/or were incriminating to show the culpability of the three accused, mainly i.e. Mr Sushil Ansal, Mr. Gopal Ansal, Mr. Panwar (since expired), in terms of their defence, that they were not at the helm of the affairs of the Uphaar Cinema and that all requisite legal formalities (Fire NOCs) were complied with.

In this regard, it was contended that all they had entered into the conspiracy to obtain a favorable verdict, and this conspiracy was unearthed when the mutilated documents were discovered.

"Fire NOCs weren't genuine"

The prosecution heavily argued that the Ansal Brothers were indeed having the entire control over the Uphaar Cinema, they took all the crucial decisions of the Cinema and Panwar had been giving him fire NOCs even on those days when he didn't leave his office and sometimes, he was casual leave. The NOCs, clean chits were granted even just a month before the tragedy. "This man was in hand and control of Ansal Brothers," argued the prosecution.

"They mutilated the documents to show that they weren't at the helm of affairs, to escape the liability and to delay the trial...The conspiracy did not end in 2003. It was not frustrated with the recovery of mutilated documents. In fact, the prosecution was forced to lead secondary evidence," the Prosecution submitted.

Here, it may be noted that while hearing the instant plea (Ansals' challenge to a trial court order dismissing their plea for suspension of 7 years' sentence in December 2021) the bench of Justice Subramonium Prasad had previously asked if it is feasible to detain the real estate barons, given their advanced age and Covid-19 conditions. This was strongly objected to by the Delhi Police in the hearing last week.

On this point, Senior Advocate Krishnan submitted that there had been repeated attempts from their end to delay the trial and this happened till 2020 when the Delhi HC kept on pressing for the expeditious trial of the matter. 

"There is a full medical system available in the jails, they will take care of the medical requirements of the convicts...This case is also related to public's confidence in the Judiciary" argued Senior Advocate Krishnan on the point argued by the defence that Ansal Brothers' sentence must be suspended as they are not medically fit and are old.

Background of the matter:

On 13 June 1997, 59 lives were lost and 103 people were injured in the fire of Uphaar Cinema, where the audience was watching that year's biggest Bollywood blockbuster, Border, during an afternoon screening. Delhi's posh Uphaar Cinema, was/ is owned by real estate giants and brothers - Sushil and Gopal Ansal.

After 95 hearings, the Ansals were finally convicted, to seven years in prison on 8 November 2021, in evidence tampering case, the Court also imposes a fine of Rs 2.5 crore on each of the Ansals. The court also gave 7-year-jail terms to former court staff Dinesh Chand Sharma and two others - PP Batra and Anoop Singh and imposed a fine of ₹3 lakh on each of them.

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.

The Ansal brothers then appealed to the trial court for suspension of plea, which was then rejected and that impugned Order is in question before this Hon'ble Court.

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