Ansals guilty in Uphaar fire, says high court, reduces jail terms (Lead)

December 19th, 2008 - 5:56 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 19 (IANS) The Delhi High Court Friday upheld the trial court verdict holding real estate tycoon brothers Gopal and Sushil Ansal guilty of criminal negligence in the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire that claimed 59 lives but reduced their jail terms from two years to one.Ruling on a review petition, Justice Ravinder Bhatt rejected their appeal and said the Ansal brothers failed to provide safety for visitors to the south Delhi cinema hall that they owned.

“Corporate social responsibility cannot be ignored while keeping in mind the security of the people,” Bhatt said while reducing their sentence from two years to one year.

The court also acquitted senior manager of the theatre Nirmal Chopra and assistant manager R.K. Sharma, who had been sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

Neelam Krishnamurthy, who lost two children in the fire, said: “I am shocked and stunned that the quantum of sentence has been reduced”.

On the afternoon of June 13, 1997, 59 people, including several women and children, were killed due to asphyxia in the fire that broke out in the south Delhi cinema hall’s transformer in the basement during the screening of the Hindi film “Border”.

On Nov 20 last year, a trial court held the Ansal brothers guilty along with three others under Section 304-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) (causing death due to rash and negligent act) and sentenced them to two years imprisonment.

Seven others, including theatre managers Chopra and Ajit Chowdhary, were convicted under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). Others convicted under the same section were Sharma, Manmohan Unniyal (the cinema’s gatekeeper), Brij Mohan Satija, A.K. Gera and Bir Singh (all Delhi Vidyut Board officials).

Both the convicts and the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) had filed a review petition in the high court.

The high court on Jan 4 had granted bail to the Ansal brothers and two other convicts.

However, in September, the Supreme Court cancelled their bail and asked them to complete the sentence given to them by the trial court.

The Central Bureau of Investigation also supported the petition filed by AVUT demanding slapping of Section 304 (II) (causing death due to rash and negligent act with full knowledge) on the Ansals, which would entail 10 years in jail.

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