Uphaar Fire: Gopal, Sushil Ansal Get 7-Yr Jail For Tampering Evidence

The 1997 fire at Uphaar Cinema is considered to be one of the first fire disasters in India.

A Delhi court on Friday awarded the Ansal Brothers – Gopal and Sushil, seven years imprisonment for tampering with the evidence in the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire case.

"It is a long case. It was very hard to reach a decision given the complexities involved. After thinking for night after night...this court thinks that the accused deserve punishment," Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pankaj Sharma said while pronouncing the order. The court also fined the Ansal brothers Rs. 2.25 crore each.

While imposing the seven-year jail term, the court observed that the regrets expressed by the convicts were "hollow and their aim is to only escape punishment."

In 1997, a fire broke out halfway through the matinee show of the film Border. The 24-year-old fire tragedy, considered to be one of the worst in India, resulted in the death of 59 and injured hundreds.

The court on October 8 had also convicted two of their employees, PP Batra and Anoop Singh, and former court staff Dinesh Chand Sharma on the same charge.

While convicting the accused of evidence tampering, the court had observed that they had "attacked the very purity and sanctity of the justice system". Their misconception that they would get away with their "nefarious design from punishment has been exposed to the world at large", the court had said.

The Delhi High Court had directed the Delhi Police to lodge a case after evidence tampering was detected for the first time in July 2002. According to the prosecution, the accused had tampered with documents including a police memo that gave recovery details in the immediate aftermath of the incident, Delhi Fire Service records pertaining to repair of transformer installed inside the cinema, minutes of Managing Director's meetings and four cheques.

Also read: The Uphaar Cinema Case - Explained In 90 Seconds

Old Age not a mitigating factor when convicts used delay tactics

Sushil and Gopal Ansal at 82 and 73 years old respectively relied on their old age for leniency. The three other convicts also plead old age while seeking respite from punishment.

The court, however, dismissed their claim commenting that the convicts could not be "permitted to take advantage of their own wrong as they indulged in procrastination and now, they are playing the victim by arguing that they had gone through the ordeal of a long trial and become old and having severe health problems."

"All the convicts have rued about their age and ill-health condition. It is important to note that all the convicts were of mature age and well educated at the time of the commission of the crime. The trial was prolonged due to the delay tactics adopted by them and obviously with the passage of time, they will grow old and the plea of leniency on this premise is of no relevance as after due deliberations and consultation amongst each other they entered into a conspiracy to do such a wicked act knowing fully well its consequences," the order read.

Also Read: Evidence In Lakhimpur Kheri Probe Collected to Benefit Accused: SC to UP

Misplaces sympathy or unwarranted leniency will send a wrong signal to the public

CMM Sharma observed that the circumstances during which the instant crime (evidence tampering) was committed shows the deep disrespect which the convicts had for the law and the judicial process and for the victims.

Misplaced sympathy or unwarranted leniency will send a wrong signal to the public giving room to suspect the institutional integrity and would affect its credibility, the 15-page order read. "Inadequate justice would do more harm to the justice system and would undermine the public confidence in the efficacy of the law as a society could not long endure such assaults on the justice system," it added.

CMM Sharma said it was noteworthy that too lenient sentence would be akin to closing the eyes to the agony and anguish of the victims and the public at large. 'Collective cry of the society must be responded by way of appropriate punishment to prevent re-occurrence of such crimes," CMM Sharma concluded.

The convicts, who were out on bail, were taken into custody after the judgement was read out.

In 2015, the Supreme Court had upheld the conviction of the Ansal brothers in the main fire case. The Ansal brothers were sentenced to two years in jail. The top court, however, had reduced their sentence to a term already served in jail (Gopal served one year, while Sushil spent five months in prison) provided they pay Rs 30 crore each that would be used to build a trauma center in the national capital.

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