New Delhi: The Supreme Court will hold an open court hearing on CBI’s plea 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 their Uphaar cinema.
A bench of Justice Anil R. Dave, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel decided to hold an open court hearing after considering the investigating agency’s plea for the recall of the order, contending that it did not get adequate time to argue as to why court should not substitute the monetary fine in place of a jail sentence.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had moved the apex court on November 6, 2015, seeking the recall of its August 19 operative order and subsequent September 22 reasoned order which had let off the real estate baron brothers with a monetary fine.
The bench of Justice Dave, Justice Joseph and Justice Goel in their September 22 order 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.
Along with the CBI, the apex court will also hear the plea by the Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy which too has sought the recall of the sentencing order.
Recalling the sequence of events on August 19 when the agency’s counsel was given just 10 minutes to advance his arguments, the CBI, in its review petition, had 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”.
In its review plea it had 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”.
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, it said.
The CBI had 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 December 19, 2008 convicted them under a different section of the Indian Penal Code and reduced their sentence to one year each.