Uphaar case: Gopal Ansal gets jail, brother spared
The Supreme Court, in a majority judgment of 2:1, on Thursday decided to send real estate baron Gopal Ansal back to jail for negligence leading to the deaths of 59 people in the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy case, while sparing his elder brother Sushil from serving time behind bars due to his advanced age.
The majority decision by Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Kurian Joseph on the three-judge Bench came on separate review petitions filed by the CBI and the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy against a 2015 judgment of the Supreme Court which had allowed the Ansals to walk free after directing them to pay a total compensation of ₹60 crore. The then Bench led by Justice Anil Dave had found nothing “fruitful” in sending the duo to jail.
The third judge on the Bench, Justice A.K. Goel, dissented in favour of the 2015 judgment and dismissed the need for a review of the earlier verdict.
Both Justices Kurian and Goel were part of the earlier Bench led by Justice Dave, who is now retired.
Gopal Ansal has been sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. He had already spent four months and 20 days in prison earlier. This period would be set off from his term and he would have to serve the rest of the prison sentence. He has been given four weeks to surrender. The court took into consideration that Sushil has already served over five months in jail and granted remission.
The court found that for a man of his age — Sushil is in his late 70s — and physical ailments, the punishment would suffice.
The court also upheld its earlier judgment directing the Ansals to pay a total compensation of ₹60 crore, saying it was not excessive.
The theatre at the Green Park area here became a death trap in 1997 during the screening of blockbuster movie Border. Smoke from a fire inside the theatre asphyxiated cine-goers as extra seats blocked exit routes.
A 100 more were injured in the ensuing stampede inside the blacked-out theatre.
The decision by Justice Dave’s Bench came after the case was repeatedly adjourned for over a period of 17 months in the Supreme Court itself.
Roller coaster ride
The case has had a roller coaster ride during the past two decades.
In the Supreme Court, in 2014, a two-judge Bench had confirmed that the Ansals were guilty of negligence and were “only interested in making money,” but had disagreed on how much time the duo should spend in prison for their crime.
While Justice (as he was then) T.S. Thakur had agreed with the Delhi High Court that they should undergo a year behind bars, Justice (retired) Gyan Sudha Misra had imposed a fine of ₹ 100 crore on the Ansals to build a trauma care centre.