1997 Uphaar cinema fire victims move Delhi HC seeking more punishment for Ansals

The case is related to tampering with the evidence in the main fire tragedy case in which the Ansals were convicted and sentenced to a 2-year jail term by the Supreme Court.

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The court said there were no major inconsistencies between the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses -- the victim, her mother and her sister. (Representational image)

The victims of 1997 Uphaar cinema fire tragedy, which claimed 59 lives, knocked the Delhi High Court’s door seeking enhancement of punishment of real estate tycoons Sushil and Gopal Ansal, who were released against the jail term already undergone by them for tampering with evidence in the case.

The Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) on Thursday shot a petition at the HC, challenging the trial court’s order on sentence and seeking enhancement of the jail term from the period already undergone to the original sentence of seven years awarded to the convicts earlier.

The plea was listed before Justice Asha Menon on Thursday, but was not heard as he did not hold the court. The matter has now been listed for hearing on September 5.

A magisterial court had on November 8, 2021, awarded seven-year jail terms to the real estate barons and since then they were in prison.

The District Judge had on July 19 modified the magisterial court’s order on sentence and ordered the release of Ansals, former court staff Dinesh Chand Sharma and Ansal’s then employee P P Batra against their already undergone jail term since November 8, 2021.

It, however, had upheld the fine of Rs 2.25 crore imposed by the magisterial court on Sushil and Gopal Ansal each and Rs three lakh each on the other two convicts.

The petitioner organisation, represented through senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, said the district judge has failed to consider that the offence of tampering is extremely serious in nature as it affects the entire criminal justice system.

It is direct interference in the administration of justice and thus requires serious consideration while sentencing a convict for committing the offence of misappropriating the court files and tampering with the most crucial evidence, purported to be used for convicting an accused person, the plea, filed through AVUT chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy, said.

It contended that the trial court failed to consider that this is a case that shatters the confidence of the public at large in the criminal justice system and it requires a maximum sentence so that it works as a deterrent for others who even dream of tampering with the court record in future.

It said the district judge has failed to consider that the accused in this case, primarily the Ansal brothers, misused the liberty granted to them in the main Uphaar case and tampered with the evidence after hatching a criminal conspiracy with the court staff.

While modifying the sentence, the trial court had observed that the family members of the fire victims may not want the culprits to go scot-free and enjoy any rights and liberties in the remainder of their lives but this whole criminal litigation cannot be converted by the prosecution into an inhuman and vindictive approach to the present appellants .

Regarding this observation, the victims said in the plea that it is highly disrespectful and insulting to record an observation against the victims suggesting that by initiating criminal process against the offenders, victims have taken an inhuman and vindictive approach. In fact, the judicial system should be thankful to such responsible members of the society .

While upholding the conviction of the Ansal brothers, the trial court acquitted one co-accused, Anup Singh, in the case.

The case is related to tampering with the evidence in the main fire tragedy case in which the Ansals were convicted and sentenced to a 2-year jail term by the Supreme Court.

The apex court, however, released them taking into account the prison time they had done on the condition that they pay a Rs 30 crore fine each, to be used for building a trauma centre in the national capital.

As per the charge sheet, the documents tampered with included a police memo giving details of recoveries immediately after the incident, Delhi Fire Service records about repair of transformer installed inside Uphaar, minutes of Managing Director’s meetings, and four cheques.

Out of the six sets of documents, a cheque of Rs 50 lakh, issued by Sushil Ansal to himself, and minutes of the MD’s meetings, proved beyond doubt that the two brothers were handling the day-to-day affairs of the theatre at the relevant time, the charge sheet had said.

The tampering was detected for the first time on July 20, 2002, and a departmental enquiry was initiated against Dinesh Chand Sharma. He was suspended and terminated from services on June 25, 2004.

The fire had broken out at the Uphaar cinema during the screening of the Hindi film ‘Border’ on June 13, 1997, claiming 59 lives.

(With PTI inputs)

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