The Delhi High Court today rejected petitions by real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal seeking a suspension of their seven-year jail term for tampering the evidence linked to a fire in Delhi’s Uphaar Cinema in 1997 that killed 59 people.
“As far as Ansal brothers are concerned, I am rejecting their application,” said Justice Subramonium Prasad.
Delhi High Court had reserved its order on January 27, 2022. Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi had appeared for Ansal brothers in Delhi High Court proceedings.
The brothers have been in jail since November 2021, after a trial court awarded them seven-year imprisonment and Rs 2.25-crore fine each.
A sessions Court had also rejected the plea of the Ansal brothers in December 2021. While dismissing the Ansals’ plea for suspension of sentence till the appeal against the conviction by magisterial court is decided, the sessions court had said that the case was one of the gravest of its kind and the offence appeared to be the outcome of a calculated design on the part of the convicts to interfere with the course of justice.
Before the high court, the Ansal brothers had sought suspension of sentence saying that there was no direct evidence of tampering and the only ground was that they would be the beneficiary of the delay.
They still have the option of appealing against the order in the Supreme Court.
The Delhi High Court allowed the suspension of 7-year jail term of Anoop Singh Karayat, a former employee of Ansals, who had filed a separate plea. His lawyer Tarun Chandiok had argued in the court that his client was neither powerful nor rich and stands on a different footing from the Ansals.
At least 59 people died of asphyxia and over 100 others were injured in the stampede after fire broke out in Uphaar cinema on June 13, 1997, during the screening of JP Dutta’s film ‘Border’.
The case drew huge attention due to the profile of the property owners, while parents of young people who died in the fire teamed up to pursue the Ansals in court. A long legal battle that swung from allegations of negligence to homicide against the Ansal brothers was fought.
The court convicted businessmen Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal along with their two employees in the case.
According to the chargesheet, the documents alleged to have been tampered with included a police memo giving details of recoveries immediately after the incident, Delhi Fire Service records pertaining to repair of transformer installed inside Uphaar, minutes of Managing Director’s meetings, and four cheques.
The tampering was detected for the first time on July 20, 2002, and when it was unearthed, a departmental enquiry was initiated against court staff Dinesh Chand Sharma and he was suspended.
Later an inquiry was conducted and he was terminated from services on June 25, 2004.