Supreme Court today issued notice to theatre owners Ansal brothers -Gopal and Sushil- on a review plea filed by the Association of victims of 1997 Uphaar cinema fire tragedy seeking enhancement of their punishment.
The Ansals have also been asked by a bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel not to leave the country till the disposal of the review petition.On the bench’s request they have given an undertaking in this regard.
Kindling hopes in the minds of the kin of 59 persons who perished in the tragedy, SC had on January 8 admitted the petitions filed by victims association and CBI seeking a review of the decision to let off theatre owners Gopal and Sushil Ansal, after considering the period they had already undergone in the prison as their sentence and imposing a fine of Rs 30 crore each. The plea had been hanging fire since then.
WHY THE TRAVEL RESTRAIN ORDER ?
Yesterday the President of Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy Neelam Krishnamoorthy through K T S Tulsi, the senior lawyer representing the AVUT mentioned before a bench headed by Justice J S Khehar that there were media reports that the Ansal brothers were planning “to flee the country” and they had to be restrained from doing so.AVUT then wanted that Ansals be asked to give an undertaking that they will not travel abroad till the review petition is heard.
THE ENTIRE BACKGROUND
It is to be noted that on January 8 this year, a three-judge bench headed by justice A R Dave (now retired) briefly discussed the issue in chamber in the presence of the lawyers of both the parties and decided that it should be heard in an open court. Since then the review petition has been hanging fire.
In the review petition filed on November 6, last year, the CBI and the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) have said that the sentence awarded to them was inadequate and against the principles of natural justice. AVUT has also urged for an open court hearing.
CBI is of the view that the judges, while letting off the accused with mere fine, did not consider several aspects dealt with by the bench which had convicted the Ansals.
They ask how can such lenient view be taken after the SC had earlier noted that “contemptuous disregard of civic law (in the tragedy) was glaring” and “cinema owners were more interested in making money than ensuring safety of the public”
Said the plea filed by AVUT: “The Petitioner is seeking the review of the impugned operative order dated 19.08.2015 and the reasons in the judgment dated 22.09.2015 on the following amongst other grounds.
“The impugned judgments are in gross violation of natural justice and have been passed without affording the victims any effective and meaningful hearing, the impugned judgments bestow an unwarranted leniency on the convicts whose conviction in the most heinous of offences has been upheld by all courts including this Hon’ble Court” .
“The sentences imposed on the convicts, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, have been substituted with fine without assigning any reason or basis thereof. The sentences of the said convicts have been reduced to the period undergone without taking into account the gravity of their offence. The orders under review run contrary to the well established jurisprudence of the principles of sentencing as followed so meticulously by this Hon’ble Court”, it said.
“The orders under review amount to grave miscarriage of justice to the victims who have suffered loss of lives of their near and dear ones because of the gross violations of safety rules by the convicted Ansalbrothers. The Ansal brothers were responsible for the functioning of the Uphaar Cinema where the tragedy occurred.
The Trial Court, the High Court and this Hon’ble Court have concurrently held the convicts guily of this most grievous of crimes. However, after the end of a long 18 years of legal battle which has seen the convicts use their influence to delay and protract trial in the case on numerous occassions, the said convict have been let off even after their conviction being uphel and infact their sentence enhanced. The sentence imposed on them has been substituted with a fine of Rs. 30 Crores each”, it said.
“With respect, this results in a dangerous judicial precedent where rich and influential members of the society can afford to be casual in their business decisions to maximize profits at the cost of innocent lives in future. There are manifest errors apparent on record in the impugned judgments which deserves being reviewed", said AVUT .
"It is submitted that the orders under review are erroneous in that they fail to consider the substantial contentions of the Petitioner on the issue of the sentencing of the convicts.They have been passed in a summary manner and in violation of natural justice to the victims. Thus,for the sake of justice it is necessary and expedient that oral arguments be permitted to be advanced and entertained in the present matter”. said the petition
THE HORRIFIC INCIDENT
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.
CBI says the court had itself brought out the negligence on the part of Ansals saying 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. But in December 2008, the Delhi High Court reduced their sentence to one year. While Sushil Ansal spent 5 months in jail, Gopal remained in jail for four months and 32 days.
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