New Delhi: The Delhi High Court today upheld a trial court’s order convicting real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal for the Uphaar fire tragedy which killed 59 cinegoers in 1997.
However, the High Court reduced the jail term of Ansal brothers, who own the cinema hall, from two to one year.
Justice S Ravinder Bhat who pronounced the verdict in a jam-packed court rejected the plea of the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) to enhance the jail term awarded to the Ansal brothers and other convicts awarded a punishment less than the cinema owners.
The High Court also upheld the conviction of four accused H S Panwar (Delhi Fire Service Staff), Brij Mohan Satija, Bir Singh (both DVB officials) and Manmoham Unniyal (gatekeeper of the cinema hall) but reduced their jail terms.
While jail terms of Satija, Singh and Unniyal were reduced from seven years to two years, Panwar’s sentence was reduced from two to one year.
The five other accused - Radhakrishan Sharma, N S Chopra, (both Uphaar cinema managers), A K Ghera (DVB official), S S Sharma and N D Tiwari (both MCD officials) - were acquitted by the High Court.
Another cinema manager, Ajit Chowdhary, who was sentenced to seven years had died recently in Tihar jail. The proceedings against him was abated.
The High Court pulled up the CBI for not carrying out investigations against senior officials of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and directed the agency to complete the probe against them by March 15 next year.
It said that there were glaring lapses on the part of MCD, DVB and the licencing authority and their officers who were not made accused in the case.
The High Court expressed its anguish against the CBI as no progress was made by the agency in the last one year since the trial court directed it for further investigation in the case.
It was unhappy that only lower-level officials had faced charges in the case and one accused even died in the jail.
However, while rejecting the petition of AVUT for enhancement of sentence of the Ansal brothers and others, the High Court said “it is unreasonable”.
The Ansal brothers, who were sentenced to two-year jail term by the trial court for causing death due to rash and negligent act, are presently lodged in Tihar jail as the Supreme Court on September 11 had cancelled the bail granted to them by the High Court.
The cinema owners were represented by noted criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani while senior advocate Harish Salve argued for the CBI in the High Court.
The agency had contended that the trial court had adopted a lenient approach towards the Ansal brothers and they should be punished under section 304 part-II of IPC that deals with culpable homicide not amounting to murder which is punishable upto 10 years of imprisonment.
On June 13, 1997 59 cinegoers, including women and children, were killed due to asphyxia in a devastating fire that broke out in the cinema hall during screening of Hindi film “Border”.
The trial court on November 20 last year had held the Ansal brothers guilty, along with three others, under Section 304-A IPC (causing death due to rash and negligent act) and had sentenced them to two years’ imprisonment.
Seven others including two theatre managers, Ajit Chowdhary and Nirmal Chopra, were convicted under Section 304 IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and sentenced to seven years’ jail.
Others who were convicted under the same section were R K Sharma, Manmohan Unniyal (cinema’s gatekeeper), Brij Mohan Satija, A K Gera and Bir Singh (all DVB officials).
The High Court on January 4 had granted bail to the Ansal brothers and two other accused