Apex court grants Ansal brothers bail (Lead)

January 30th, 2009 - 7:45 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 30 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday granted bail to real estate tycoons Ansal brothers, who were serving a year-long jail sentence after being convicted in the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy that killed 59 people.A bench of Justice S.B. Sinha and Justice V.S. Sirpurkar granted bail to Gopal and Sushil Ansal on the 102nd day of their stay in jail since Sep 11, 2008.

The bail order comes exactly a week after the Ansals made a stern apex court judge, Justice B.N. Agrawal, quit hearing their appeal against a Delhi High Court ruling that had endorsed their conviction by the trial court but had reduced their two-year jail term to one year.

Justice Agrawal had ordered jail for Ansals on Sep 10 after relatives of the fire tragedy victims moved the apex court.

As Ansals’ plea against the high court ruling came up for hearing last Friday before the bench headed by Justice Agrawal, the Ansal brothers made him abandon the hearing by telling him that they want to be represented by senior counsel Ram Jethmalani.

They told the court that as Jethmalani was “embarrassed in appearing before him” owing to two articles he had written in 2005 on a controversy involving Justice Agrawal, he should not hear their appeal so that Jethmalani could represent them.

The apex court Friday granted bail to the Ansals in a proceeding lasting less than five minutes during which Jethmalani was barely able to complete his argument.

The bail was granted almost as soon as Jethmalani had told the court that his clients had been convicted on charges of criminal negligence and were given a year long jail term and were entitled to the bail.

Jethmalani was still arguing the case, unaware that bail had been granted, and was informed about it by one of his juniors.

The bench, while granting bail to Ansals, also issued notices to them on another lawsuit by the Association of the Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), challenging the high court ruling that reduced their sentence to one year.

AVUT president Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost her two teenaged children in the tragedy and had been waging a relentless legal battle since then for justice, had sought enhancement of jail term for the Ansals.

In her petition, she has also demanded that Ansals be tried on the stringent charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, rather than causing death due to criminal negligence.

Dejected after bail was granted to the Ansals, Neelam Krishnamoorthy and her husband Shekhar, told IANS: “My fight for justice appears to be over now. For how long can I keep fighting all alone?”

Krishnamoorthy also told IANS that with the Ansals now out on bail, the couple feared for their lives.

“As we came out of the Supreme Court premises, we were accosted by around 10 people who told us to ‘watch out now’ as the Ansals are out on bail. We know we are going to be knocked out before soon,” she said.

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