The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed businessmen and brothers Sushil and Gopal Ansal to respond to review petitions seeking harsher punishment for negligence, causing the deaths of over 50 cine-goers in the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy.
A Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi began the hearing of the review petitions filed by the victims’ families and the CBI against the apex court’s 2015 judgment allowing the Ansals to get off by paying a total fine of Rs. 60 crore for negligence.
December 14 hearing
The apex court restrained them from leaving the country till the review petitions are decided. It said the hearing on the petitions would commence on December 14.
The Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy (AVUT) has been seeking an urgent hearing of the review petitions. However, Justice A.R. Dave, who was the lead judge on the Bench which pronounced the 2015 judgment, had retired in November.
In its review plea, the AVUT had said the apex court judgement “bestows an unwarranted leniency on convicts whose conviction in the most heinous of offences has been upheld by all courts including this court and sentences imposed on them have been substituted with fine without assigning any reason.”
The Supreme court had justified in its 2015 judgment that there was nothing “fruitful” in sending the Ansals to prison for their negligence, though it admitted that a “matter of this magnitude may call for a higher sentence.”
Countering this, the CBI blamed the “Indian law for failing to keep pace with the needs of society by providing too lenient punishment for criminal negligence.”
The judgment had come despite the fact that three courts, from the trial court to the Supreme Court, had found there was no fire fighting equipment or even walking space towards the exit of the cinema hall. The victims, many of them women and children, were trapped in the darkness of the cinema hall as smoke billowing into the hall from a blaze in an electric transformer choked them to death.