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Controversial RamJet win: SC declines to give pro bono Harish Salve minutes to re-open Uphaar jail release

The Supreme Court yesterday (20 August) declined the CBI’s plea to put forward its arguments on the period of sentence for Ansal brothers - Sushil and Gopal - following their conviction for negligence in 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy which claimed 59 lives.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is reportedly looking at filing a review petition against the decision.

“We have already passed the order. You must understand. It will not be proper,” said a bench of Justice Anil R Dave, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel as senior counsel Harish Salve sought just 15 minutes time to put forth his arguments backing the Central Bureau of Investigation’s plea.

Salve wanted to place before the court the arguments which the agency has yet to address to the court. But the court was unmoved and asked Salve to file a review petition.

Salve, appearing for the CBI, had told the apex court on Wednesday just before the court was rising for lunch break that the investigating agency would press for the enforcement of the remainder of one year sentence imposed by the high court and for its enhancement.

Telling the court that he had been doing this case without charging fee since 2000, Salve said: “I have been doing this case pro-bono since 2000. Please grant us 15 minutes time.”

The apex court on Wednesday imposed a fine of Rs 30 crores on each of the two brothers with a breather that they will not have to return to Tihar Jail to serve the remainder of their one year prison term.

Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, who wwas representing the brothers, commented: “This is the best judgment that the SC has delivered.”

The matter was heard by the three judge bench after a bench of Justice TS Thakur and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra (since retired) on March 5, 2014, while upholding the Ansals’ conviction, took a divergent position on sentencing.

The trial court had on November 20, 2007 sentenced the Ansal brothers to two years’ imprisonment but it was reduced to one year by the high court in 2008.

A terrible fire in the transformer room of Uphaar cinema in south Delhi on June 13, 1997 killed 59 people after it emitted toxic gases.

The deaths mainly occurred as viewers could not escape because the exit doors were closed barring one operational exit.

AAP disappointed

The Supreme Court ruling on the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy has “raised extremely serious questions the way criminal justice is delivered” in India, Delhi’s ruling AAP said yesterday.

The Aam Aadmi Party expressed “deep disappointment” over the ruling on Wednesday when the apex court fined Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, who own the cinema, Rs.30 crore each but said they won’t have to go to jail.

“The party has decided to make its stand public since the case has raised extremely serious questions about the way criminal justice is delivered in our country though it would have desisted from commenting on any judgment in normal course,” the AAP said in a series of tweets.

“The final outcome in the case, which lingered on for 18 years, has led to the public impression that it is a travesty of justice, given the scale of tragedy and magnitude of negligence which was a result of political-bureaucratic-corporate nexus,” it said.

“AAP stands firmly with the families who lost their near and dear ones for no fault of theirs, and their remaining members (who) have been running from pillar to post to get justice, which unfortunately has eluded them so far.”

Saying the CBI may file a review petition against the verdict, the AAP said it felt “much more is to be done to restore the faith of families of the victims in the justice delivery system which appears to have been shattered”.

Victims bereft

Terming as “very disappointing” the Supreme Court’s Wednesday verdict of no jail for the Ansal brothers in the 1997 Uphaar fire case, the association of victims in the tragedy said the ruling “will send a wrong message to the world”.

“The verdict has been very disappointing. I did not expect this. The victims of Uphaar have been further victimised today and have not been given justice by the Supreme Court,” Neelam Krishnamurthy, convener of the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) who lost both her children in the fire that engulfed the theatre, told IANS

Representing the victims and the families of those killed in the fire of June 13, 1997, Krishnamurthy said the apex court did not give them enough time to argue.

“The law of the land is different for people with money and for ordinary citizens. I spent 17 years with my daughter and 13 years with my son but I have spent 18 years trying to get justice which has been denied today.

“This will send a wrong message to the entire world. This judgment will be talked about in the world and I will make sure about it,” she said.

In a breather to real estate giants Ansal brothers Sushil and Gopal, accused in the case, the Supreme Court fined them Rs.30 crore each, refusing to send them to jail.

The court said the Ansals would deposit the fine in three months and this amount would be utilised by the Delhi government.

However, Krishnamurthy said the fine being deposited with the government will encourage bribery.

“This fine will go to the government and these are the governments which joined hands with the Ansals and gave them NOCs (no-objection certificates). You are encouraging bribery,” she said.

Photo by Bart

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