Uphaar fire: CBI seeks recall of SC order on Ansals’ sentencing

New Delhi: The CBI on Friday moved the Supreme Court seeking recall of its order letting off the Ansal brothers – Sushil and Gopal – on paying Rs.30 crore each coupled with the sentence they have already undergone for the 1997 fire tragedy in the Uphaar cinema owned by them.

A bench of Justice Anil R. Dave, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel on August 19 had let off the Ansal brothers and in their reasoned order of September 22, said that the magnitude of the Uphaar fire tragedy, in which 59 people perished on June 13, 1997 as they could not leave the burning cinema due to blocked exits, may call for “higher sentence” but it could not go beyond the choices under the law.

Recalling the sequence of events on August 19 when the agency’s counsel was given just 10 minutes to advance his arguments, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in its review petition, said that “due to the paucity of time on the day on which this case was heard, the prosecution could not adequately put across reasons why a court should not substitute a monetary fine in place of a jail sentence”.

The investigating agency in its review plea has contended that the order on sentence that was being sought to be recalled was in “violation of principles of natural justice, suffers from error apparent on law and has resulted in grave miscarriage of justice”.

It has contended that the relevant paragraphs of the judgement on conviction and crucial evidence showing the extent of negligence of the accused (Ansal brothers), which had a direct bearing on sentence were not brought to the notice of the court on account of paucity of time.

The CBI has also contended in its review petition that the “age of the accused should not and cannot be factored in the present case as a mitigating circumstance”.

The apex court in its September 22 order had said: “It hardly needs to be mentioned that an appropriate sentence has to be awarded by taking into consideration the gravity of offence, the manner of commission, the age of the accused and other mitigating and aggravating circumstances. The sentence should neither be excessively harsh nor ridiculously low.”

“The matter has been contested by the CBI and supported by the victim’s group vigorously. The trial was successfully delayed by the accused until such time as a directive was issued by the high court to speed up the trial,” the CBI said in its review plea.

The trial court November 20, 2007, had convicted Ansal brothers and others and sentenced them to two years jail each but the high court by its December 19, 2008, verdict convicted them under a different section of the Indian Penal Code and reduced their sentence to one year each.