Real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal on Wednesday, August 19, escaped being jailed in the 18-year-old gruesome Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy in which 59 people died. The Supreme Court asked them to pay a fine of Rs 30 crore each and restricted their jail term to the period already undergone by them.
Over turning the pleas of CBI and the victims' association, a three-judge bench of Justices AR Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel asked them to pay the total fine of Rs 60 crore in three months and deposit it with the Delhi government, which in turn will spend the money on welfare schemes.
While Sushil, 76, had spent over five months in prison, 67-year-old Gopal was in jail for over four months immediately after the tragedy. The bench rejected the submissions of senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for CBI, that the convicts be sent to jail to serve the remaining jail term.
"My instruction from CBI is to press for their custody," said Salve, when the court sought his views. Senior advocate KTS Tulsi, who represented the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), also said that the convicts not only be jailed, but rather their punishment should be enhanced.
59 people, trapped in the balcony of the theatre in South Delhi, had died of asphyxia following the fire and over 100 were injure in the subsequent stampede on June 13, 1997, during the screening of Bollywood film Border . Earlier, a bench of justices TS Thakur and Gyan Sudha Mishra (since retired) had on March 5, 2014, held real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal guilty, but differed on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to them.
"Rich people can get away by paying money but it is different for the ordinary citizens," said a shocked and disappointed mother of two teenagers who were killed in the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy.
"I am very much disappointed. 18 years back, I lost faith in God and 18 years later, I lost faith in judiciary. One thing which I have realised is that the court of law is not same for the rich and the poor. Rich people can get away by paying money but for ordinary citizens, judiciary is different. Had it been the lives of children of politicians and judges, justice would have been done within a year. The judiciary cannot understand the plight of a mother who has stood 18 years before the court to get disappointment. Nobody cares about ordinary people but rich and powerful get away," said Neelam Krishnamurthy, who led the AVUT.