By Shekhar Singh
New Delhi, Jan 22 (SocialNews.XYZ) On June 13, 1997, halfway through the screening of JP Dutta's movie "Border", a fire broke out in Uphaar cinema located in Green Park in south Delhi, killing 59 people and injuring over 100 in one of the worst fire tragedies in the country.
Many died of suffocation while several were injured during a stampede that ensued amidst the chaos. A probe revealed that the cinema hall authorities had blocked the exit doors to add more seats, leaving hardly any way for the people to escape from the inferno.
Eighteen years after the tragedy, the owners of the ill-fated cinema hall -- Gopal Ansal and Sushil Ansal -- were convicted by a Delhi court. In the same year in August 2015, the Supreme Court allowed the Ansals to walk free and asked them to pay a fine of Rs 30 crore each.
However, 24 years after the tragedy, the Ansal brothers were sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in an evidence tampering case. The court also imposed a fine of Rs 2.25 crore on both.
After 25 years of the tragedy, on July 18, 2022, a Delhi court
granted relief to real estate tycoons Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, ordering their release from jail by asking them to serve only the sentence already undergone, in a case of tampering with evidence in the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire case.
"We empathise with you (Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy). Many lives were lost, which can never be compensated. But you must understand that penal policy is not about retribution. We have to consider their (Ansals) age. You have suffered, but they have also suffered," the judge had said.
However, the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) moved the Delhi High Court seeking enhancement of the punishment for tampering with evidence.
The plea said that 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.
The plea, filed through AVUT chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy,
contended that the trial court failed to consider that this is a case which shatters the confidence of the public at large in the criminal justice system and it requires the maximum sentence so that it works as a deterrent for others who even dream of tampering with the court record in future.
"The Ansal brothers misused the liberty granted to them in the main Uphaar case and tampered with the evidence after hatching criminal conspiracy with the court staff," stated the plea.
"It is not old age, it is about rich and poor. A 98 year old man was released after serving five years in Lucknow Jail. Was he not old? Would they let a poor man walk free like Ansals? The courts are there to deliver justice and everyone should be treated the same," said Krishnamoorthy.
"We will continue our fight till the last day of my life, I will probably end up in courts because they have failed to deliver justice to us," she says.
According to the charge sheet, the documents tampered with included a police memo giving details of recoveries immediately after the incident, Delhi Fire Service records pertaining to the repair of the transformer installed inside Uphaar, minutes of the 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 20 July, 2002, and a departmental inquiry was initiated against Dinesh Chand Sharma. He was suspended and his services were terminated on 25 June 2004.
(Shekhar Singh can be reached at email@example.com)