In a set-back to the victims of 1997 Uphaar cinema hall tragedy in Delhi, Supreme Court awarded no further jail term to the owners of the cinema hall. But the top court imposed a whopping Rs 30 crore fine each on industrialists Gopal Ansal and Sushil Ansal, the owners of the theatre where the fire tragedy in the summer of 1997 had resulted in the death of 59 cine-goers. The apex court, which had already pronounced the two guilty of negligence, was deciding on the quantum of punishment.
With this order, the long drawn court battle has practically come to an end, though the victims can still go for the review and curative petition.
The three judge bench of Justice AR Dave, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Adarsh Kumar awarded the jail term for a period already undergone by the industrialists. In their order, the court further ordered the brothers to pay the total fine of Rs 60 crore in three months and deposit it with the Delhi government, which in turn will spend the money on welfare schemes.
While Sushil Ansal has spent over five months in prison, his brother Gopal Ansal has spent jail time of over four months.
In the process, the three-judge Supreme Court bench also rejected the submissions of the investigating agency CBI and the next of the victims, represented by the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT).
Both CBI’s counsel senior advocate Harish Salve and senior advocate KTS Tulsi, who represented the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), had pressed for the jail term of convicts.
The Delhi High Court in 2008 had awarded one-year jail term to both Gopal Ansal and Sushil Ansal holding them guilty of negligence in the tragedy on June 13, 1997. 59 cine-goers were killed due to asphyxia and over 100 were left injured in the subsequent stampede during the screening of Bollywood film ‘Border’.
The two-judge apex court bench of Justice TS Thakur and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra (since retired) on March 5, 2014, had also held Ansals guilty. But they had differed on the quantum of sentence to be awarded leading to the subsequent hearings. The bench, however, had concurred in their view that there was “contemptuous disregard” of civic laws on part of the Ansals that led to the tragedy as they were “more interested in making money than ensuring safety of people”.
Justice Thakur had awarded one-year jail term to both Sushil and Gopal Ansal, while Justice Mishra (Retd) had reduced the jail term to the period already served in jail by Sushil considering his age and enhanced the sentence of Gopal to two years.
(With inputs from the PTI)