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SCOI Report: SC's full reasoned judgment in Uphaar sentencing case disappoints victims' families

Uphaar judgment: Victims association not happy with reasons
Uphaar judgment: Victims association not happy with reasons

Association Of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy president, Neelam Krishnamoorthy expressed dismay over the reasoned judgment delivered by Justices Anil R Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel yesterday (Wednesday, September 23) in the Uphaar criminal appeal.

Saying that the so-called “reasoned” judgment, delivered yesterday, lacks reasoning, Krishnamoorthy asked how could the bench substitute the sentence of imprisonment with a fine of Rs 30 crores each to be paid by Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, the convicts in the case, on the ground of old age of one convict, and the other, on the ground of parity.

She said the court records in its judgment that the victims’ families are not keen on monetary compensation, in lieu of imprisonment, and yet precisely enables the convicts to get away by paying fine.

She pointed out that although Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, whose dissenting judgment (from that of Justice TS Thakur) had led the case to to be reheard by Justice Dave’s bench, the latter appeared to support Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra’s judgment, which did not support the principle of parity at all.

Justice Mishra had imposed a fine of Rs 50 crore each on the Ansals, in lieu of the remaining one year sentence of imprisonment, which they had not served.

Justice Dave bench’s decision to reduce this fine to Rs 30 crore each, has not been explained in the so-called “reasoned” judgment delivered on Wednesday.

Although she did not have much hope that the victims could get justice at the review stage, as the review petition will be heard by the same bench led by Justice Dave, she said there is a glimmer of hope that it will be heard in the open court, just to hear the senior counsel representing the victims and the CBI, to ensure that there is no denial of natural justice.

On 20 August, Justice Dave abruptly delivered the order, imposing the fine on the Ansals in lieu of their remaining imprisonment, without hearing Harish Salve, senior counsel for the CBI and KTS Tulsi, who represented the victims’ families.

This has led to criticism that the bench ignored the principle of natural justice, by hearing only Ram Jethmalani, who argued on behalf of the Ansals.

The Dave bench’s sympathy for the old age of one of the convicts, Sushil Ansal, for reducing his sentence of imprisonment to the period already undergone, was extended to his brother Gopal Ansal on the principle of parity, on the plea of Jethmalani.

The judgment, however, is silent on how the principle of parity is relevant here, when only one convict is found eligible for reduction of sentence on the ground of advanced age. After remissions, both the convicts had completed just nine months imprisonment. Fifty-nine persons, mostly children, perished in the fire tragedy at Uphaar theatre in Delhi in 1997, due to the negligence of the theatre-owners, the Ansal brothers.

The Dave bench also seems to have ignored the [http://rememberuphaar.com/2015/06/13/avut-press-release-13th-june-2015-2/ grievance] of the victims’ families that the convicts were solely responsible for the inordinate delay in the conclusion of the trial and the hearing of the appeals, and therefore, if one of the convicts was ultimately found eligible for the mitigating factor of advanced age, and the other for the principle for parity, then their role in delaying the conclusion of the trial and the appeal hearings is suspect.

The Dave bench found the Ansal brothers responsible for blocking one exit inside the theatre by creating extra seats without permission, and thus contributing to the loss of more lives. The misplaced sympathy of the bench towards the convicts has dismayed the victims’ families.

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