A Delhi court on Saturday reserved for December 3 its order on whether to suspend the seven-year jail terms awarded to real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal for tampering with evidence in the 1997 case of Uphaar cinema fire, which had claimed 59 lives. Additional Sessions Judge Anil Antil reserved the order on appeals filed by the Ansals against their conviction and jail terms by a magisterial court.
Besides challenging their conviction and punishment, the Ansals had urged the sessions court to suspend their jail terms till the appeal is decided. The court heard the arguments of the accused as well as the victim and police, and reserved the order.
Senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, appearing for the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), had opposed the appeals and told the court that the offence of tampering with evidence is extremely serious in nature as it affects the entire criminal justice system. The Delhi Police had also opposed the appeals filed by the Ansals and told the court that suspending the jail terms of the convicts would trigger the mental trauma and agony of the victims.
The police had told the court that the punishment provided a solace to the victims of the tragedy and reinforced their faith in the justice delivery system, that too after 24 years. If the jail terms awarded to the convicts are suspended within a month of incrimination, it will further erode the faith of the country's common citizens in the criminal justice system, Additional Public Prosecutor A T Ansari had told the court.
The case is related to tampering with evidence in the main fire tragedy case, in which the Ansals were convicted and sentenced to a two-year jail term by the Supreme Court. The apex court had, however, released the Ansals, taking into account the prison time they had done, on the condition that they pay a fine of Rs 30 crore each, to be used for building a trauma centre in the national capital.
The magisterial court had also sentenced former court staff Dinesh Chand Sharma and two others — P P Batra and Anoop Singh — to seven years in jail and slapped a fine of Rs 3 lakh each on the them. It had imposed a fine of Rs 2.25 crore each on the Ansals.
The tampering was detected for the first time on July 20, 2002 and a departmental enquiry was initiated against Sharma, who was suspended subsequently. Later, he was terminated from services on June 25, 2004.
The prosecution said after the termination of his services, the Ansal brothers helped Sharma get employment on a monthly salary of Rs 15,000. When the case was registered, the documents of the company where Sharma was employed were further tampered with by its chairperson Anoop Singh.
According to the chargesheet, the documents alleged to have been tampered with included a police memorandum giving details of recoveries immediately after the incident, Delhi Fire Services records pertaining to the repair of a transformer installed inside the Uphaar cinema hall, minutes of the managing director's meetings and four cheques. Of the six sets of documents, a cheque for 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 chargesheet had said.
The fire had broken out at the Uphaar cinema hall during the screening of Hindi film "Border" on June 13, 1997, claiming 59 lives. The case was lodged on the direction of the Delhi High Court, which was hearing a petition filed by AVUT chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy.