High court notice to CBI, five accused in Uphaar case


New Delhi : The Delhi High Court Thursday issued a notice to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and five of the accused in the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy that killed 59 people in response to a petition by the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) demanding harsher sentences.

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Justice H.R. Malhotra asked the CBI, real estate tycoons Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal as well as three others who have been booked for negligence to file their reply by Jan 22.

Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra accepted the notice on behalf of the CBI.

A lower court had Nov 23 charged theatre owners Ansals under Section 304 A (causing death by negligence), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life).

The AVUT has alleged that the trial court had erred in convicting the cinema owners and three others under a milder penal provision while there was enough evidence to sentence them under Section 304 Part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) so as to attract a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment.

Seeking enhancement of the punishment awarded to Ansal brothers, the AVUT Wednesday filed a revision petition in the high court.

The association is also seeking the enhancement of sentence awarded to two Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) officials, S.S. Sharma and N.D. Tiwari, as well the fire department’s H.S. Panwar who, along with the Ansal brothers, were awarded two year jail terms on the grounds that their complicity in the offence was grave.

“We have approached the court demanding that section 304 A be imposed on the Ansals and the other three be changed to section 304 of Indian Penal Code (IPC),” said Neelam Krishnamurthy, convenor of AVUT.

The AVUT also alleged that the Ansals had carried out structural deviations for increasing the seating capacity with prior knowledge that their act may result in such a disaster.

The trial court had convicted all the 12 accused under various provisions of the IPC for causing the death of the 59 people on June 13, 1997 when a fire broke out at the south Delhi theatre that was screening “Border”.

Uphaar managers Radha Krishan Sharma, N.S. Chopra and Ajit Chowdhary, gatekeeper Manmohan Unniyal, Delhi Vidyut Board officials Brij Mohan Satija, A.K. Gera and Bir Singh were convicted under harsher penal provisions as compared to the Ansal brothers. They were sentenced to seven-year jail terms.