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Ansal brothers want fire-trap Uphaar cinema to be de-sealed

November 07, 2016 15:20 IST

Real estate barons Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal on Monday moved the Supreme Court seeking de-sealing of the Uphaar cinema hall where 59 cine-goers had lost their lives in 1997 in a blaze when a Bollywood movie was being screened.

A bench comprising Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao said it will discuss the matter with Justice A R Dave, who had heard the petition in the case.

Senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for Ansals, mentioned the matter for urgent hearing and said the fresh plea of Ansals could be heard together with other petitions including those filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy in the case.

Justice Dave, who headed the three-judge bench which had heard the matters in the Uphaar case, is set to demit office on November 18.

Earlier this year, a three-judge bench comprising justices Dave, Kurian Joseph and A K Goel had decided to hear in an open court the petitions filed by the CBI and the AVUT seeking review of its 2015 verdict by which Sushil and Gopal Ansal were required to serve two-year jail term if they failed to pay Rs 30 crore each. The Ansals have deposited the amount.

Fifty nine people had died of asphyxia when a fire broke out during the screening of Bollywood movie 'Border' in Uphaar theatre in Green Park area of South Delhi on June 13, 1997. Over 100 were also injured in the subsequent stampede.

The review plea filed by the AVUT had said the apex court judgements "bestow an unwarranted leniency on convicts whose conviction in the most heinous of offences has been upheld by all courts including this court and sentences imposed on them have been substituted with fine without assigning any reason or basis."

"The sentences of the convicts have been reduced to the period undergone without taking into account the gravity of their offence," it had said.

The CBI, in its review plea, had said the apex court did not give it time to put its views forth which has resulted in "miscarriage of justice".

"Due to the paucity of time on the day on which this case was heard, the prosecution could not adequately put across the reasons why this court should not substitute a monetary fine in place of a jail sentence.

"This petition also seeks to raise issue of an apparent error of law in the judgement and order of this court which has occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice," the agency had said in its plea. The agency had also said that the "callousness" of the Ansal brothers led to 59 people being trapped and suffocated to death in the theatre.

The apex court had, on August 19, 2015 sent Ansal brothers to two-year rigorous jail term if they failed to pay Rs 30 crore each within three months.

In a judgement on September 23, 2015, the bench had said the "magnitude" of the case "calls for a higher sentence" but the court has to limit itself to the choice available under the law.

A two-judge bench of justices T S Thakur and Gyan Sudha Misra (since retired) had in a March 5, 2014 order differed on the quantum of sentence for Ansal brothers -- Sushil, 76, and Gopal, 67.

While Justice Thakur had retained the one-year jail term awarded by Delhi High Court in 2008, Justice Misra had awarded the maximum punishment of two years with a rider that it can be reduced to the period already undergone behind bars on payment of Rs 100 crore as fine collectively by them.

After this, the matter was referred to the bench of Justices A R Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel, which enhanced the sentence to the maximum period of two years under Section 304-A (causing death by negligence) of IPC if they failed to pay the fine amount.

While Sushil has spent over five months in prison, Gopal was in jail for over four months soon after the accident.

The three-judge bench had also said that on the principle of parity, the case of Gopal will stand on the same footing as that of Sushil.

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