Voice from the Rooftop

Blog of Vincent Augustine D'Souza

Uphaar case

The judgment of the Supreme Court in Uphaar case on 19/8/2015 has left many people shattered and also raised questions about judges making their own laws or amending laws according to their whims and fancies. Instead of sending guilty persons to jail as per law for causing death by negligence of 59 persons, the judges ordered payment of 60 crore rupees to Delhi government when there is no provision for payment of money to anyone, that too a third party.
Neelam Krishnamoorthy (Krishnamurthy?) who lost her daughter Unnati and son Ujjwal has been the face of fight for justice for Uphaar theatre victims. She said “18 years ago I lost faith in God and today I lost faith in the judiciary. I am disappointed and disgusted. Money power augurs so well with the institutions that the death of 59 persons becomes a mere statistic.” On India Today channel to Rajdeep Sardesai she said “I should have taken a gun and shot dead the Ansals. I could have pleaded insanity. I would have come out after 14 years.” She blamed the judges for allowing Ram Jethmalani, lawyer of Ansals, to go on speaking, and for not giving time to Harish Salve, CBI lawyer, and KTS Tulsi, Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) lawyer, to speak.
On 13/6/1997 a transformer burst in Uphaar theatre resulting in 59 deaths and injuries to over 100 people. There were irregularities in theatre construction and maintenance and owners and municipal officials were responsible for deaths and injuries. CBI took over the case on 24/7/1997 and filed chargesheet on 15/11/2015 against theatre owners Gopal Ansal and Sushil Ansal and 14 others. Prosecution began in March 1999. In February 2001 sessions court framed charges under IPC sections 304 for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, 304A for causing death due to negligence, and violation of Cinematograph Act. On 20/11/2007 sessions court Mamta Sehgal sentenced Ansals to two years imprisonment though she said it was not sufficient punishment in this case. On 4/1/2008 Delhi High Court granted bail to Ansals. On 11/9/2008 Supreme Court cancelled bail. Ansals went to jail. In December 2008 Delhi High Court reduced the sentence to one year. Ansals were out on bail. CBI and Avut appealed to Supreme Court for enhancement of sentence. On 5/3/2014 came split verdict of Supreme Court. Justice T. S. Thakur said the punishment should be one year each. Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra said it should be two years each but instead of second year of jail Ansals should pay 100 crore rupees. Sushil Ansal need not complete one year due to his advanced age. The matter went to three-judge bench.
The bench consisted of Anil Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh K. Goel. Anil Dave and Kurian Joseph hand formed a two-judge bench in Yakub Memon case and had disagreed on almost everything and the case had gone to a three-judge bench. It is strange that they were in agreement in Uphaar case. Anil Dave had said a judge fails in rajdharma if he gives less punishment for a crime.
Ansals dragged on the case by getting repeated adjournments and then pleaded leniency due to prolonged trial. That is like the young man who shot dead his parents and asked the judge to show him mercy because he was an orphan.
Many people have lost faith in the judiciary over the years. Some said so when Jayalalitha was acquitted in a disproportionate assets case by a Karnataka High Court judge.
The law needs to be changed regarding punishment to be awarded. There should be no discretion to judges. The quantum should be same and proportionate to the number of people affected. It should not be up to two years but two years so judges do not give less punishment. In case of death of 59 people the punishment should be 118 years. In case of death of 15,000 people as in Bhopal gas leak case the punishment should be 30,000 years.
On 20/8/2015 Harish Salve pleaded for more time from the Supreme Court. He said “The CBI was not given enough time. There were certain aspects that we could not argue. Give us some more time. 30 minutes or even 15 minutes. I have been doing this case pro-bono since 2000. Please grant us 15 minutes between 3.45 and 4 p.m. today. If the court is not convinced, then throw us out.” The judges did not agree and suggested he file review petition.
Neelam Krishnamoorthy and some others met Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and asked him not to accept 60 crore rupees from Ansals. She said “If the Delhi government has any respect for a human life it should refuse to accept the Rs 60 crore that Ansals need to pay as fine. They should send it back to the judiciary and let them decide what they want to do with it.”

Updated: August 22, 2015 — 7:32 am

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