The Supreme Court deferred the hearing of an application filed by Gopal Ansal, a real estate magnate convicted along with his brother for the death of 59 cine-goers in a fire at their Uphaar cinema here in 1997.

Mr. Ansal had applied for permission to leave for London and New York on a business trip from June 16 to 28/29.

A Bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and C. Nagappan listed the plea before the next Vacation Bench on June 16 for hearing.

In his application, Mr. Ansal said that as the head of a real estate company with over 500 employees, he has to make “off and on” visits abroad. This time he was taking the trip “to meet investors to discuss investment proposals in respect of 45 acres belonging to M/s Ansal Buildwell Ltd and associated companies in the exotic Kumarakom backwaters of Kerala”.

The plea comes in the backdrop of a split verdict from the Supreme Court in March 2014 on the quantum of sentence to be imposed on the brothers. The two-judge Bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and Gyan Sudha Misra had, however, upheld the guilt of Gopal and his brother Sushil in the 1997 tragedy.

Both CBI and the Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy had appealed to the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court decision in 2008 to reduce the trial court’s sentence in the case from two to one year of imprisonment. The question of sentence has been referred to a larger Bench and will come up for hearing in July.

While Justice Thakur upheld the award of one year imprisonment by the High Court, Justice Misra held that the Ansals should indeed undergo a sentence of two years.

Justice Misra had further substituted the second year sentence with a fine of Rs.100 crore divided equally between the two brothers and said the amount should be used for construction of a trauma care centre and super-speciality hospital. She had also directed that in view of his advanced age, Sushil Ansal’s period of sentence will be one that he has already undergone.

“The Supreme Court has retrained the Ansals from leaving the country without the court's permission. Besides, there is no urgency,” Neelam Krishnamoorthy, convenor of AVUT and a mother who lost both her children in the fire, said.

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