SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT DATED 05.03.2014 IN UPHAAR CRIMINAL APPEAL

JUDGEMENT

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICITION

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.597 OF 2010

Sushil Ansal                                       …Appellant

Versus

State Through CBI                                  …Respondent

(With Crl. Appeals No.598/2010, 599/2010, 600-602/2010, 604/2010, 605-

616/2010 and 617-627/2010)

J U D G M E N T

T.S. THAKUR, J.

Enforcement of laws is as important  as  their  enactment,  especially

where such laws deal  with  safety  and  security  of  citizens  and  create

continuing obligations that call for constant vigil by those entrusted  with

their  administration.   Callous   indifference   and   apathy,   extraneous

influence or considerations and  the  cynical  “Chalta  Hai”  attitude  more

often than not costs the society dearly in  man-made  tragedies  whether  in

the form of fire incidents, collapse of  buildings  and  bridges,  poisonous

gas  leaks  or  the  like.   Short-lived   media   attention   followed   by

investigations that at times leave the end result flawed and a long  winding

criminal trial in  which  the  witnesses  predecease  their  depositions  or

switch sides under pressure or for gain and where even the victims or  their

families lose interest brings the sad saga to an uncertain end.  A  somewhat

similar story is presented in these appeals by special leave arising out  of

a common judgment and order dated 19th December, 2008  passed  by  a  Single

Judge of High Court of Delhi whereby a batch of criminal  appeals  filed  by

those convicted by the trial Court for commission of different offences  and

the sentences awarded to them were disposed of alongwith  criminal  revision

petition no.17 of 2008  filed  by  the  Association  of  Victims  of  Uphaar

Tragedy (hereinafter, “AVUT”) that led to the death of  59  persons  besides

injuries to nearly 100 others.

2.    The High Court has, on a reappraisal of the evidence  adduced  at  the

trial, acquitted five of  the  appellants  before  it  while  upholding  the

convictions of the rest with  or  without  modification  of  the  nature  of

offence in some cases and reduction of the sentence in others. We  shall  in

the course of this judgment refer in detail to the view taken by  the  Trial

Court and the extent and nature of modification made to  that  by  the  High

Court in the impugned judgment.

3.    Suffice it to say that the fire incident that claimed  valuable  human

lives took place in the heart of the capital  city  of  Delhi  in  a  cinema

building situate in its posh Green Park Extension area on 13th  June,  1997.

The factual backdrop in which the unfortunate victims lost  their  lives  or

suffered injuries has been set out by the Trial Court in  its  judgment  and

reiterated by the  High  Court  in  the  order  passed  by  it  without  any

significant changes in the narrative.  In the Trial Court, as  in  the  High

Court and even before us there was no serious dispute as  to  the  cause  of

the fire leading to the loss of human lives.  We,  therefore,  would  remain

content with the broad narration of the facts  as  are  available  from  the

order passed by the Trial Court and that passed by  the  High  Court,  which

are as under:

The Incident:

4.    Uphaar Cinema building, situate on a plot  of  2480  square  yards  at

Green  Park  Extension  Shopping  Centre,  New  Delhi,  comprised  a  cinema

auditorium with a sanctioned capacity of 750 seats besides a balcony with  a

sanctioned capacity of 250 seats. The cinema auditorium comprised the  first

floor of the cinema complex while the balcony was constructed on the  second

floor. The ground floor of the building  comprised  a  parking  lot  besides

three separate rooms on the western side, one of which was used for  placing

a 500 KVA electric transformer that supplied electric energy to  the  cinema

theatre while the other was used for housing a  1000  KVA  transformer  that

was  installed  and  maintained  by  the  Delhi  Vidyut  Board  (hereinafter

referred to as “DVB”). It is common ground that the second transformer  even

though located within the cinema premises, did  not  supply  electricity  to

the cinema but rather  to  some  of  the  tenants  occupying  parts  of  the

commercial complex that formed  a  part  of  the  building  and  some  other

consumers from the locality.

5.    The prosecution case is that on 13th June, 1997  at  about  6.55  a.m.

the bigger of the two transformers installed and maintained by  DVB  on  the

ground floor of the  Uphaar  Cinema  building  caught  fire.  The  fire  was

brought under control by 7.25 a.m. Inspection  of  the  transformer  by  the

Superintendant of the DVB and his  team  revealed  that  three  of  the  low

tension cable leads of the transformer had been partially  burnt.  At  about

10.30 a.m., B.M. Satija (A-9) and A.K.  Gera  (A-10),  Inspectors  from  DVB

along with  Senior  Fitter,  Bir  Singh  (A-11)  conducted  repairs  on  the

transformer by replacing two aluminium sockets on the  B-Phase  of  the  low

tension cable leads. The repairs, it appear, were carried out with the  help

of a dye and hammer without the use of a crimping machine.  The  transformer

was recharged for resumption of electric supply by 11.30 a.m. on 13th  June,

1997.

6.    The prosecution alleges that repairs conducted on the  transformer  in

the earlier part of the  day  were  unsatisfactory  and  resulted  in  loose

connections that caused sparking on the B-Phase  of  the  transformer  where

such repairs were carried out. This resulted in the loosening of one of  the

cables of the transformer which eventually came  off  and  started  dangling

loose along the radiator and burnt a hole in the radiator fin. Through  this

hole the transformer oil started leaking out which, on account of  the  heat

generated by the loose cable touching against the radiator, ignited the  oil

at about 4.55 p.m. on 13th June, 1997. Since the transformer  did  not  have

an oil  soak  pit  as  required  under  the  regulations  and  the  standard

practice, the oil that spread out of the  enclosure  continued  leaking  and

spreading the fire to the adjacent parking lot where cars were parked  at  a

distance of no more than a metre from  the  door  of  the  transformer.  The

result was that all the cars parked in the parking area on the ground  floor

of the cinema hall were ablaze. Smoke started billowing in the northern  and

southward directions in the parking lot of the cinema complex. The  northern

bound smoke encountered a gate which was adjacent to a staircase leading  to

the cinema auditorium on the first floor. Due to chimney effect,  the  smoke

gushed into the stairwell  and  eventually  entered  the  cinema  auditorium

through a door and through the air conditioning ducts. The  southward  bound

smoke similarly travelled aerially through another staircase  and  into  the

lower portion of the balcony of the auditorium from the left side. All  this

happened while a large number  of  people  were  seated  in  the  auditorium

enjoying the matinee  show  of  ‘BORDER’,  a  popular  Hindi  movie  with  a

patriotic theme. Because of  smoke  and  carbon  monoxide  released  by  the

burning oil and other combustible material, the  people  in  the  auditorium

started suffocating.

7.    The Shift  In-charge  of  the  Green  Park  Complaint  Centre  of  DVB

received a telephonic message from K.L. Malhotra (A-4), since deceased,  who

was the Deputy General Manager of Uphaar Cinema at  the  relevant  point  of

time, regarding the fire. It was only then that the AIIMS grid to which  the

transformer in question was connected was  switched  off  and  the  flow  of

energy to the cinema complex  stopped.  According  to  the  prosecution  the

supply of the 11 KV outgoing Green Park Feeder  tripped  off  at  5.05  p.m.

thereby discontinuing the supply of energy to the cinema.

8.    Inside the auditorium and balcony there was complete pandemonium.  The

people in the balcony are said to have rushed towards  the  exits  in  pitch

darkness as there were neither emergency lights  nor  any  cinema  staff  to

help or guide them. The prosecution  alleged  that  no  public  announcement

regarding the fire was made to those inside the auditorium or  the  balcony,

nor were any  fire  alarms  set  off,  no  matter  the  management  and  the

employees of the Uphaar Cinema were aware  of  the  fact  that  a  fire  had

broken out. Even the Projector Operator was not given instructions  to  stop

the film while the fire was raging nor was any  patron  informed  about  the

situation outside. On the contrary, the doors to the middle entrance of  the

balcony were found to be bolted by the gatekeeper-Manmohan Uniyal (A-8)  who

had left his  duty  without  handing  over  charge  to  his  reliever.  More

importantly, the prosecution case is that  the  addition  of  a  private  8-

seater box had completely closed off the exit  on  the  right  side  of  the

balcony, while the addition of a total of 52 extra seats over the years  had

completely blocked the gangway on the right side of the balcony.  Similarly,

the gangway on the right of the middle entrance was  significantly  narrower

than required under the regulations. It was alleged that Sushil Ansal  (A-1)

and Gopal Ansal (A-2), the owners of  the  cinema  hall,  had  knowledge  of

these deviations from fire safety norms despite  which  they  had  continued

exhibiting films, thereby endangering the lives of all those who  patronized

the  theatre.   All   these   obstructions,   deviations,   violations   and

deficiencies had, according to the  prosecution,  resulted  in  the  victims

getting trapped in the balcony for at least 10-15 minutes exposing  them  to

lethal  carbon  monoxide,  to  which  as  many  as  59  persons   eventually

succumbed.

9.    Rescue operations attempted by the fire tenders from the Bhikaji  Cama

Place and Safdarjung Fire Stations were  undertaken  after  the  Delhi  Fire

Service received a complaint from K.L. Malhotra (A-4),  since  deceased,  at

5.10 p.m. The fire tenders took nearly forty five minutes  to  one  hour  to

extinguish the fire and to rescue the persons  trapped  in  the  balcony  by

opening the bolted doors and  taking  those  who  had  collapsed  and  those

injured to the hospitals. No  one  from  the  staff  or  management  of  the

theatre was, according to the prosecution, present at the  spot  to  lend  a

helping hand in the rescue operations.

Investigation and Charges:

10.   Investigation into the fire incident  and  the  resultant  causalities

started pursuant to FIR No.432/97 registered at Police  Station,  Hauz  Khas

on the basis of a written complaint filed  by  one  Sudhir  Kumar,  Security

Guard, employed by the management of the cinema complex.  The  investigation

was initially  conducted  by  the  Delhi  Police  but  was  soon  thereafter

transferred to the Crime Branch and eventually  to  the  Central  Bureau  of

Investigation under the Delhi Special Police Establishment  Act,  1946.  The

CBI registered case bearing No.RC-3(S)/97/SIC.IV/New  Delhi  on  25th  July,

1997.

11.   The investigating agencies first looked into  the  incidents  of  fire

and got prepared and seized the record relevant thereto, including a  report

signed by B.M. Satija (A-9), A.K. Gera (A-10), Inspectors and Bir Singh  (A-

11) Senior Fitter, which dealt with the nature of repair that was  conducted

on the DVB transformer after the first incident. The investigating  agencies

also looked into the chain of events that led to the second fire  at  around

5.00 p.m. and the  entry  of  smoke  into  the  cinema  auditorium  and  the

balcony. A report from the Central  Building  Research  Institute  was  also

obtained by the investigating  agencies  on  17th  August,  1997  under  the

signatures of T.P. Sharma (PW-25). Expert opinion of K.V.  Singh,  Executive

Engineer (Electrical), PWD was also obtained by the  investigating  officers

on 29th June, 1997,  in  addition  to  two  CFSL  reports  prepared  by  Dr.

Rajender Singh forwarded to the Hauz Khas Police Station on 27th June,  1997

and to the CBI on 11th August, 1997. These reports were marked Exs. PW  64/B

and PW 64/D at the trial.

12.   The investigating officers also examined the cause  of  malfunctioning

of the DVB transformer and obtained a report Ex. PW24/A in that regard  from

Mr. K.L. Grover, Electrical  Inspector  and  Mr.  A.K.  Aggarwal,  Assistant

Electrical Inspector on 25th June, 1997. The report obtained from  Professor

M.L. Kothari of IIT, New Delhi, on 2nd July, 1997  analysed  and  attributed

the cause of fire to malfunctioning of the DVB transformer.

13.    The  investigating  agencies  then  looked  into  the   fire   safety

deviations in the Uphaar Cinema building to determine whether the  same  had

contributed to the fire and hindered the  escape  of  those  seated  in  the

cinema auditorium and balcony from the poisonous carbon  monoxide  that  had

polluted  the  atmosphere  inside  the  complex.  Reports   from   Executive

Engineers, MCD were also obtained in this  regard.   A  Panchnama  depicting

floor-wise deviations in the Uphaar Cinema building and  an  Inspection-cum-

Scrutiny report marked as Ex.PW 2/A  indicating  the  structural  deviations

was also submitted by the MCD to the CBI on 11th August, 1997.

14.   Similarly, the investigating agencies collected a fire  report  marked

Ex. PW 49/E from the Delhi Fire  Service  regarding  the  rescue  operations

conducted by the fire service personnel on the date of the occurrence.

15.   Post-mortem conducted on the dead body of Captain  M.S.  Bhinder,  one

of  the  unfortunate  victims,  revealed  that  the  cause  of   death   was

asphyxiation. From the report of Dr. T.D. Dogra, Forensic  Expert,  obtained

on 18th September, 1997,  the  investigating  officers  concluded  that  the

rapid death of the victims  could  have  been  caused  by  inhalation  of  a

combination of toxic gases including carbon  monoxide  and  sulphur  dioxide

which were produced by combustion of articles like  diesel,  petrol,  rubber

and styrene.

16.   Statements of a  large  number  of  witnesses  relevant  to  the  fire

incident, its causes and effects were also  recorded  by  the  investigating

agencies  from  time  to  time  culminating  in  the  filing  of  a   common

charge sheet  against 16  persons  accusing  them  of  commission  of  several

offences punishable both under the Indian Penal Code,  1860  as  also  under

the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. What  is  important  is  that

while accused A-1, A-2, A-12, A-13 and A-14 were charged with commission  of

offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337, 338 read with Section 36,  IPC

and  Section  14  of  the  Cinematograph  Act,  1952,  accused  A-3  to  A-8

comprising the management and gatekeeper of the  Cinema  were  charged  with

commission of offences punishable under Sections 304,  337,  338  read  with

Section 36,  IPC  and  Section  14  of  the  Cinematograph  Act,  1952.  The

employees of DVB namely Inspectors B.M. Satija (A-9), A.K. Gera  (A-10)  and

Senior Fitter, Bir Singh (A-11) were also charged  with  the  commission  of

offences punishable under Sections 304, 337 and 338 read with Section 36  of

the IPC.  As regards the remaining three accused  namely,  N.D.  Tiwari  (A-

14), H.S. Panwar (A-15) and Surender Dutt (A-16),  they  were  charged  with

commission of offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337,  338  read  with

Section 36 of IPC.

17.   Since some of  the  offences  with  which  the  accused  persons  were

charged were triable by the Court of Sessions, the case  was  committed  for

trial to Additional Sessions Judge, New Delhi, who framed  specific  charges

against Sushil Ansal (A-1), Gopal Ansal (A-2) and the rest of  the  accused.

18.   Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2), who happen to  be  brothers,

were charged with offences punishable under Sections 304A read with  Section

36 and Sections 337 and 338 read with Section 36  IPC  for  their  negligent

acts of  omission  and  commission  of  allowing  installation  of  the  DVB

transformer, various structural and fire safety deviations in  the  building

in violation of various Rules and not facilitating  the  escape  of  patrons

which caused the death of 59 persons and simple  and  grievous  injuries  to

100 others in the fire incident mentioned  above.  They  were  also  charged

under Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952  for  contravention  of  the

provisions of the Delhi Cinematograph Rules, 1953 (hereinafter  referred  to

as ‘DCR, 1953’) and Delhi Cinematograph Rules,  1981  (hereinafter  referred

to ‘DCR, 1981’).

19.   Managers, R.M. Puri (A-3), since deceased, K.L. Malhotra  (A-4)  since

deceased,  R.K.  Sharma  (A-5)  since  deceased,  N.S.  Chopra  (A-6),  Ajit

Choudhary (A-7), since deceased and Manmohan Uniyal (A-8),  gatekeeper  were

also charged with commission of offences punishable under Section  304  read

with Section 36 of IPC since, despite being present at the time of the  fire

incident, they failed to inform, alert and  facilitate  the  escape  of  the

patrons from the balcony during the  fire  while  knowing  fully  well  that

their act was likely to cause death or such bodily injuries  as  was  likely

to cause death.

20.   Similarly, B.M. Satija (A-9), A.K. Gera (A-10) and  Bir  Singh  (A-11)

were charged with commission of offences punishable under Section  304  read

with Section 36 IPC in that they had not used the required crimping  machine

while repairing the DVB transformer after the first fire  incident  on  13th

June, 1997 knowing fully well that this could and did cause the  transformer

to catch fire once again and result in the death or  bodily  injury  as  was

likely to cause death of persons in the building.

21.   The rest of the accused persons  namely,  S.N.  Dandona  (A-12)  since

deceased, S.S. Sharma (A-13), N.D. Tiwari (A-14),  H.S.  Panwar  (A-15)  and

Surender Dutt (A-16) since deceased, were charged with  offences  punishable

under Sections 304A, 337 and 338 IPC read with Section 36  IPC  for  causing

the death of 59 persons and simple and grievous injuries to  100  others  by

their acts and omissions of negligently issuing  No  Objection  Certificates

to Uphaar Cinema without ensuring that the statutory requirements  for  fire

safety and means of escape were adhered to.

22.   All the accused persons pleaded  not  guilty  to  the  charges  framed

against them and claimed a trial. Not only that,  all  of  them  filed  writ

petitions before the Delhi High Court  against  the  order  framing  charges

passed by the Trial Court which were dismissed by the High  Court  in  terms

of four separate orders  passed  by  it.  A  Special  Leave  Petition  filed

against the order of dismissal of the writ petition by  Sushil  Ansal  (A-1)

was dismissed as withdrawn by an order  of  this  Court  dated  12th  April,

2002.

Evidence at the Trial:

23.   At the trial the prosecution examined as  many  as  115  witnesses  in

support of its case apart from placing reliance upon  nearly  893  documents

marked in the course of the proceedings. The oral evidence  adduced  broadly

comprised depositions of witnesses whom providence helped  to  escape  alive

from the cinema complex on the fateful day.  These  witnesses  narrated  the

events inside the cinema hall and the confusion that prevailed after  people

started suffocating because of smoke entering from in front  of  the  screen

and through the AC  ducts  before  the  hall  was  eventually  plunged  into

darkness, leaving the people inside trapped without any emergency lights  or

help coming from any quarter. Those in the balcony  found  that  they  could

not escape since all the  doors  were  locked.  The  depositions  comprising

Kanwaljeet Kaur (PW-1), Karan Kumar (PW-3), Rishi Arora  (PW-7),  Amit  (PW-

8), Hans Raj (PW-11) and Satpal Singh (PW-12) gave graphic accounts  of  the

situation that prevailed inside the cinema hall and  the  rescue  operations

after the Fire Brigade arrived to help them out.

24.   The evidence also comprised the depositions of  Neelam  Krishnamoorthy

(PW-4), Ajay Mehra (PW-5), Harish Dang (PW-6), Satish Khanna (PW-9),  Kishan

Kumar Kohli (PW-10), Raman Singh Sidhu  (PW-13)  and  Surjit  Singh  (PW-66)

relatives of some of the victims, who narrated  their  travails  and  proved

the death certificates of those lost in the tragedy.  Neelam  Krishnamoorthy

(PW-4) happens to be the unfortunate mother of two who were  seated  in  the

rightmost two seats in the front row of the balcony.

25.   Some of the onlookers and others who helped in the  rescue  operations

were also examined by the prosecution apart from the officers of  the  Delhi

Fire Service. R.C. Sharma (PW-49)  Chief  Fire  Officer,  testified  to  the

presence of smoke in the stairwell and the balcony and stated that he  could

not open the balcony door until he received  help  of  two  other  officers.

Depositions of B.L. Jindal (PW-15) and Ram Kumar Gupta (PW-17) who  happened

to be the Assistant Engineer and Junior Engineer  respectively  of  the  MCD

were also recorded. A large number of 14 witnesses were  examined  to  prove

the structural deviations in  the  building  upon  an  inspection  conducted

after the fire incident. An  equally  large  number  of  33  witnesses  were

examined to prove documents relied upon by the prosecution.  Witnesses  were

also  examined  to  prove  the  sanction  orders  issued  by  the  competent

authority to prosecute some  of  the  accused  who  happened  to  be  public

servants. Evidence regarding the ownership,  management  and  administration

of  the  company  which  owned  Uphaar  Cinema,  M/s  Green  Park   Theaters

Associated (P) Ltd. was also adduced.

26.   Medical evidence led at the trial  comprised  the  deposition  of  Dr.

T.D. Dogra (PW-62) who proved the death certificates of 41 victims in  which

the cause of death was  stated  to  be  suffocation.  In  addition,  Dr.  S.

Satyanarayan (PW-77) who conducted the  post-mortem  on  the  dead  body  of

Captain M.S. Bhinder  was  also  recorded.  Officials  from  DVB  and  those

connected with the  investigation  too  were  examined  by  the  prosecution

before closing its case.

Findings of the Trial Court:

27.   The Trial Court appraised the evidence led at the trial including  the

depositions of three defence witnesses, one each, examined  by  H.S.  Panwar

(A-15), Bir Singh (A-11) and A.K. Gera  (A-10)  and  recorded  findings  and

conclusions that may be summarized as under:

(a)   That Uphaar Cinema was owned by a company that  was  closely  held  by

Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2) and other members of  their  family

and that several violations regarding the installation of a transformer  and

the seating  arrangement  in  the  balcony,  structural  deviations  in  the

building were committed while Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2)  were

either Directors or the Managing Directors of the said company.  Even  after

the alleged resignation  of  the  Ansal  brothers  in  the  year  1988  they

continued to be in control of the management of the cinema and  the  running

of its day-to-day affairs, including exercising control  over  the  Managers

and other staff employed.

(1)   In coming to that conclusion, the Trial Court relied  upon  both

documentary and oral evidence adduced before it  by  the  prosecution.

The Trial Court found that application dated 2nd February,  1973  made

to the erstwhile DESU for grant of electricity connection  for  Uphaar

Cinema was signed by Sushil Ansal (A-1).  So  also  letter  dated  2nd

February, 1973 by which the company had agreed to give DESU two  rooms

for their transformer and HT and LT panels at a nominal rent of Rs.11/-

per year was signed by Sushil Ansal (A-1). The fact that the original

licence granted to Uphaar Cinema was granted in favour  of  M/s  Green

Park Theatres Associated (P) Ltd. (in  short,  “GPT”)  through  Sushil

Ansal (A-1) as the Managing Director at that time, as  also  the  fact

that Sushil Ansal (A-1) continued to be  representative  licensee  for

the cinema was also relied upon by the Trial Court in support  of  its

conclusion that Sushil Ansal (A-1) exercised  control  and  management

over Uphaar Cinema at the relevant point of time.  Reliance  was  also

placed by the Trial Court upon letter dated 19th June, 1974 written on

behalf of GPT by Sushil Ansal (A-1) whereby the Entertainment  Officer

was requested to permit the owner to lease out the top floor of Uphaar

Cinema  for  office  use  and  the   ground   floor   for   commercial

establishments. An affidavit dated 21st March, 1975 and  letter  dated

2nd April, 1979 filed in connection with renewal of the cinema license

were also relied upon by the Trial Court to show that Sushil Ansal (A-

1) was not only the licensee of Uphaar Cinema, but also  that  he  had

held himself out in that capacity before  the  concerned  authorities.

Letter  of  authority  authorizing  V.K.  Bedi,  Architect,  to  deal,

discuss, explain and make corrections in the building plan as well  as

to collect the sanction plan on his behalf as also reply to show-cause

notice dated 11th May, 1981  issued  by  the  Deputy  Commissioner  of

Police (Licensing) [in short, “DCP (L)”] which too was sent by  Sushil

Ansal (A-1) as licensee for GPT were relied upon by the Trial Court to

buttress its  conclusion  that  Sushil  Ansal  (A-1)  was  the  person

exercising control over the affairs of the  cinema  and  its  Managing

Director.

(2)   The Trial Court noted  that  although  Sushil  Ansal  (A-1)  had

resigned from the Directorship of the company on 17th  October,  1988,

he had continued to be the licensee of the cinema as is  evident  from

an affidavit dated 3rd March, 1992 (Ex. PW50/B) addressed to  DCP  (L)

seeking renewal of the license for the  years  1992-93.  In  the  said

affidavit the Trial Court observed that  Sushil  Ansal  (A-1)  clearly

mentioned that he  continued  to  be  the  occupier  of  the  licensed

premises and the owner of the Cinematograph. Minutes of the meeting of

the Board of Directors held on 24th December, 1994 were  also  noticed

by the Trial Court to show that although Sushil Ansal  (A-1)  resigned

from the Directorship of the company in 1988 he had  continued  to  be

involved in the affairs of the cinema, no matter in the capacity of  a

Special Invitee. Reliance was also placed by the Trial Court upon  the

inspection proformas of the Delhi Fire Service for the years 1995-1997

to show that Sushil Ansal (A-1) continued to be shown as  licensee  of

Uphaar Cinema.

(3)   The Trial Court placed reliance upon the financial authority and

the control exercised by Sushil Ansal (A-1)  in  the  affairs  of  the

cinema hall. In this regard the Trial Court referred to a  self-cheque

(Ex.PW91/B) dated 26th June, 1995 for a  sum  of  rupees  fifty  lakhs

drawn by Sushil Ansal (A-1) from the accounts of GPT.  Closer  to  the

date of occurrence, the Board of Directors of the company had on  25th

March, 1996 passed a resolution  authorising  Sushil  Ansal  (A-1)  to

operate the bank accounts of the company upto any  amount.  The  Trial

Court also relied upon other circumstances to support  its  conclusion

that although Sushil Ansal (A-1) claims  to  have  resigned  from  the

Directorship of the company in the year 1988, he continued to  be  the

heart and soul of the company and in complete management of the cinema

affairs. Reliance was also placed upon Ex. PW103/XX3 by  which  Sushil

Ansal (A-1) was appointed authorized signatory to operate the  Current

Accounts with various banks.

(4)   The Trial Court similarly referred to and  relied  upon  several

pieces of documentary evidence in holding that Gopal Ansal (A-2)  also

exercised extensive control over the affairs of the cinema. The Court,

in particular, relied upon the resolution of the  Board  of  Directors

passed on 15th July, 1972 (Ex.PW103/XX) according to which Gopal Ansal

(A-2) was  authorised  to  sign  all  documents,  drawings  and  other

connected  papers  regarding  the   submission   of   revised   plans,

applications for electricity  connections  concerning  Uphaar  Cinema,

etc. Letter dated 24th May, 1978 (Ex. PW110/AA20), addressed by  Gopal

Ansal (A-2) as Director, GPT seeking permission to install  an  eight-

seater box and reply dated 6th December, 1979 to the show-cause notice

for removal of one hundred extra seats after withdrawal  of  the  1979

resolution which was signed by Gopal Ansal (A-2) as  Director  of  GPT

were also relied upon by the Trial Court. Similarly, letter dated 29th

July, 1980  addressed  to  DCP(L)  for  the  installation  of  fifteen

additional seats in the balcony was found  to  have  been  written  by

Gopal Ansal (A-2) as Director, GPT. Reply  to  the  show-cause  notice

dated 28th May, 1982 was similarly found to have been given  by  Gopal

Ansal (A-2) as Director of GPT  in  which  he  tried  to  explain  the

reasons for the bolting of doors from the inside during exhibition  of

a film and gave assurance that the utmost precaution would be taken by

the management in future.  The Trial Court also relied upon  the  fact

that the car parking contract was granted  by  Gopal  Ansal  (A-2)  as

Director of GPT in April, 1988.

(5)   The Trial Court further relied upon the Minutes of  the  Meeting

held on 25th March, 1996 of the Board  of  Directors  of  the  company

appointing Gopal Ansal (A-2) as authorised signatory upto  any  amount

to operate the bank accounts.  Cheques issued  by  Gopal  Ansal  (A-2)

subsequent to the said authorisation in favour of the  Chief  Engineer

(Water) and in favour of the Music Shop from the accounts of GPT which

later was rechristened as Ansal Theaters &  Clubotels  (P)  Ltd.  were

also relied upon by the Trial Court in support of its conclusion  that

Gopal Ansal (A-2), like his brother Sushil  Ansal  (A-1),  even  after

resigning from the Directorship of the company, continued to  exercise

control over the affairs of the cinema complex. This was, according to

the Trial Court, evident from the fact  that  Gopal  Ansal  (A-2)  was

appointed authorised signatory to operate the current accounts, as was

the case for Sushil Ansal (A-1) also.

(6)   Last but not the least, the Trial Court relied upon the  Minutes

of the Meeting dated 27th February, 1997 (Ex. PW98/X4) in which  Gopal

Ansal (A-2), described as “MD” of the company, is said to have desired

that not even a nail be put in the cinema premises without  his  prior

permission. Similarly, in the Minutes of the MD Conferences dated  2nd

April, 1997 and 1st May, 1997, Gopal Ansal (A-2), described as “MD  in

Chair”, issued instructions in this capacity regarding a large  number

of business decisions and day-to-day affairs of the company. The Trial

Court held that Gopal Ansal (A-2) was proved to  be  MD  in  Chair  by

letters marked (Ex. PW98/X-2) and (Ex. PW98/X-3). He was also shown to

be “MD in Chair” for the MD Conference held on 7th May, 1997 in  terms

of letter dated 9th May, 1997 marked Ex. PW98/X-C.

(b)   That a 750 KVA DVB transformer was installed in  the  cinema  premises

in complete violation  of  the  Electricity  Rules  and  in  breach  of  the

sanctioned plan for the building.

(1)   The Trial Court found that the sanctioned plan marked  Ex.  PW15

Y/3 provided for  three  adjacent  rooms  on  the  ground  floor  each

measuring 20×10 feet to be used for installation of a transformer. The

first of these three rooms was to be used for  HT  cables  that  would

bring high voltage current from the AIIMS Grid  Station.   The  second

room was to be used for installing the  transformer  that  would  step

down the high density current and transmit the same to the third  room

which was meant for LT cables from where the  current  would  then  be

supplied to the cinema building.

(2)   Relying upon the report submitted by Mr.  K.L.  Grover  (PW-24),

the Electrical Inspector,  the  Trial  Court  concluded  that  it  was

essential for the management of the cinema to obtain  permission  from

the Licensing Department as also from  the  Municipal  Corporation  of

Delhi (in  short,  “MCD”)  prior  to  the  installation  of  the  said

transformer. Instead of doing so,  the  internal  positioning  of  the

walls of the transformer area comprising  the  three  rooms  mentioned

above was changed without so much as notifying the MCD about the  said

change or obtaining its sanction for the same. Reliance was,  in  this

regard, placed by the Trial Court upon the depositions of R.N.  Gupta,

Executive Engineer,  MCD  (PW-2)  and  Shri  K.L.  Grover,  Electrical

Inspector (PW-24).

(3)    The  Trial  Court  also  looked  into   the   Rules   regarding

installation of transformers in the Bureau of Indian  Standard:  10028

(Part II) – 1981 and the Building Bye Laws,  1983  to  hold  that  the

installation of the transformer in question  did  not  adhere  to  the

following three distinct requirements under the rules:

(i)    The  two  transformers  namely  one  installed   by   the

management of the company owning the cinema and  the  other

installed by the DVB were not separated by a fire resistant

wall as required in Para 3.6.2, IS: 10028 (Part II) – 1981.

(ii)  The transformers did not have oil soak pits necessary  for

soaking the entire  oil  content  in  the  transformers  as

required in Paras 3.6.3 and 3.6.4, IS: 10028  (Part  II)  –

1981.

(iii) The rooms where the transformers were kept  did  not  have

proper ventilation and free movement of  air  on  all  four

sides of the transformers, nor were  adequately  sized  air

inlets and outlets provided to ensure efficient cooling  of

the transformers as required in Paras 7.3.1.1 and  7.3.1.4,

IS: 10028 (Part II) – 1981.

(4)   Having said so, the Trial Court rejected the contention urged on

behalf of the Ansal brothers (A-1 and A-2) that they were coerced into

providing space for the DVB transformer by the  DVB  authorities.  The

Court found that correspondence exchanged  between  GPT  and  the  DVB

authorities did not suggest that the Ansals  were  forced  to  provide

space for the DVB transformer as contended by them.

(c)   That the condition of the DVB transformer  was  wholly  unsatisfactory

and that the fire had started on  account  of  the  sparking  of  the  loose

connection of the cable and socket of the bar of the said transformer.

(1)   Relying upon the depositions  of  K.L.  Grover,  the  Electrical

Inspector (PW-24), T.P.  Sharma,  CBRI  Expert  (PW-25),  K.V.  Singh,

Executive Engineer (Electrical), PWD (PW-35), Professor  M.L.  Kothari

from IIT (PW-36) and Dr. Rajinder Singh, Sr. Scientific Officer, CFSL,

(PW-64), as well as their respective inspection  reports,  marked  Ex.

PW24/A, Ex. PW25/A, Ex. PW35/A, Ex. PW36/A and Ex. PW64/B,  the  Court

held  that  the  condition  of  the   DVB   transformer   was   wholly

unsatisfactory on account of the following:

i) The  transformer  did  not  have  any  protection  system  as

required by the Electricity Act.

ii) The terminals on the LT side were  not  enclosed  in  a  box,

unlike in the case of the Uphaar transformer.

iii) The LT side cables from  the  bus  bar  lacked  any  kind  of

clamping system or support for the cables.

iv) There was no relay system connected to the HT Panel board  of

the DVB transformer which could have tripped in case  of  any

fault.

v) The check nut of the neutral terminal was found to be loose.

vi) There were earth strips lying in  the  transformer  room  but

these were not properly joined.

vii) The connection between earth and neutral was also broken.

viii) The LT Panel’s outgoing switches did not have fuses.

ix) No HRC (High Rupture Capacity) fuses were found  and  use  of

wires, in lieu of it was not proper.

x) All the four oil circuit breakers were completely unprotected

against earth faults and over current.

xi) The potential transformer was found to be in the disconnected

condition of the OCB operation mechanism.   Its  battery  and

charger were also found to be defective and  heavily  damaged

in the fire.

(2)   The Court further held that fire  in  the  DVB  transformer  had

resulted on account of the sparking by the  loose  connection  of  the

cable end socket of the bus bar of the DVB transformer. The cable  end

socket of the B-phase bus bar was unsatisfactorily repaired  since  it

was fixed by hammering and not by using a  crimping  machine.  The  LT

cable got disconnected from the cables on the B-phase and made a  hole

in the radiator fin when the live conductor of the disconnected  cable

fell upon it.  Transformer oil gushed out of the  opening  on  to  the

floor, while continued short circuiting of the cable with the radiator

fin in the absence of a protection relay system caused sparking, which

in turn resulted in the oil from the transformer catching  fire.   The

sparking would have continued for a significant amount of  time  since

there was no immediate tripping system  available  in  the  HT  panel.

Tripping was ultimately found to have taken place at the  33  KV  sub-

station at AIIMS.  The main switch from the generator which was  going

to the AC blower was found to be fused.  The fuses were  found  to  be

inside the body of the switch. The condition  of  dust  covered  fuses

suggested that they had been out of use for a long time.

(d)   That the parking of extra cars and the parking of cars  close  to  the

transformer in what was meant to be a 16 ft. wide passage for free  movement

of the vehicles aggravated the situation and contributed  to  the  incident.

The Trial Court found that apart  from  petrol  and  diesel  cars,  CNG  gas

cylinders and upholstery comprising combustible material emitted smoke  when

burnt containing carbon monoxide,  carbon  dioxide  and  other  hydrocarbons

which resulted in suffocation of those inside the balcony of the cinema.

(1)   The Trial Court held that  the  management  of  the  cinema  had

disregarded the requirements of law and the sanctioned  plan,  thereby

putting the lives of the patrons at risk. The Court found  that  there

was nothing on record to show that the Ansal brothers (A-1 and A-2) or

the Managers of the cinema for that  matter  had  impressed  upon  the

contractor appointed by them the  legal  and  safety  requirements  of

maintaining a safe distance between vehicles and the transformer  room

when they entered into a parking contract  in  the  year  1988.  This,

according to the Court, was gross negligence that contributed  to  the

death of a large number of patrons and  injuries  to  many  more.  The

Trial Court in support of that conclusion relied  primarily  upon  the

following pieces of evidence:

i) The sanctioned plan for the ground/stilt floor of the  Uphaar

Cinema building as also the report of R.N.  Gupta,  Executive

Engineer, MCD (PW-2), according to which  the  provision  for

parking of fifteen cars was made on the said floor. The  plan

also earmarked a  16  feet  wide  passage  to  be  maintained

alongside the transformer rooms for the easy  maneuvering  of

vehicles.

(ii)  The deposition of R.K. Sethi (PW-56),  the  parking  contractor,

proved that cars were parked at a distance of no more  than  3-4

feet from the transformer  room.  On  the  fateful  day  parking

tokens had been issued for 18 cars for the matinee  show,  apart

from 8-10 office cars that were parked in the parking lot.

(iii) The deposition of K.V. Singh, Executive  Engineer  (Electrical),

PWD (PW-35) and the report marked Ex.PW35/A  which  proved  that

the fire situation had been aggravated due to  the  presence  of

petrol and diesel in the fuel tanks of the  vehicles  parked  in

front of the transformer rooms.

(iv)  Local Inspection Note of the place of incident prepared  by  the

Trial Court which supported the conclusion that  cars  had  been

parked in close proximity to the transformer room and  that  the

same were burnt in the incident.

(2)   Absence of proper care on the part of the management in ensuring

that only the permissible  number  of  vehicles  were  parked  in  the

parking area and that a 16 ft. wide passage  remained  free  from  any

obstruction were  held  by  the  Trial  Court  to  be  acts  of  gross

negligence on the part of the management, endangering the lives of the

patrons visiting the cinema and contributing to the magnitude  of  the

hazardous gases that eventually led to the death of a large number  of

innocent victims.

(e)   That there were several structural deviations in the  cinema  building

apart from a  rear  wall  behind  the  HT/LT  room  that  was  found  to  be

constructed up to a height of 12 feet even though it was sanctioned only  up

to a height of 3 feet.

(1)   Relying upon the deposition of B.S. Randhawa, ASW,  PWD  (PW-29)

and Ex. PW29/A, the panchnama/report of floor-wise deviations prepared

by him along with Dalip Singh, Executive  Engineer,  PWD  and  Prithvi

Singh, DSP, the Court held that the  construction  of  the  rear  wall

beyond 3 feet had affected the ventilation in the area and  obstructed

the dispersal of smoke in  the  atmosphere.  The  Court  rejected  the

contention that PW-29 had been tutored since he had made no mention of

the obstruction of smoke in the report, Ex. PW29/A.  The  Court  found

that his testimony had been corroborated by the  sanctioned  plan  Ex.

PW15/Y-3, which too only allowed a wall upto a height of 3 feet.

(2)   Similarly, the Court found certain other  structural  deviations

in the cinema building some of which contributed to  the  fire,  smoke

and obstruction of escape claiming human lives by asphyxia. The  Court

in this regard placed reliance upon Ex. PW17/D, the report prepared by

R.K. Gupta, Junior Engineer, MCD (PW-17) and the  deposition  of  R.S.

Sharma (PW-18) and  Vinod  Sharma  (PW-20).   The  Court  also  placed

reliance upon Ex. PW2/A  which  happened  to  be  the  inspection-cum-

scrutiny report dated 2nd August, 1997 submitted by the MCD  Engineers

depicting  floor-wise  deviations  and  deposition  of   R.N.   Gupta,

Executive Engineer, MCD (PW-2)  in  that  regard.  Reliance  was  also

placed upon the depositions of  R.K.  Bhattacharaya  (PW-39)  and  the

inspection note prepared by the Trial Court based on its inspection on

the spot as per the direction of the High Court.  Based  on  the  said

evidence  the  Trial  Court  enumerated   the   following   structural

deviations in the Uphaar Cinema building:

Basement

(i)   A 12′ X 20′ room was constructed adjoining the staircase.

(ii)  A 26′ X 20′ room was constructed adjoining the blower room.

(iii) A wooden store with wooden partitions was being used.

(iv)  One 40′ long and one 20′ long brick wall  were  constructed  and

old seats were found partially filling the space between them.

Ground Floor/Stilt Floor

i) A 20′ X 9′ Homeopathy Dispensary was constructed above the ramp,

behind the transformer room.

ii) Behind the HT, LT and transformer  rooms,  the  outer  wall  was

built up from a height of 3′ to the height of the first floor.

iii) Though externally unchanged, the partitions between the  HT,  LT

and transformer rooms were shifted to alter the rooms’  internal

sizes.

iv) A 14′ X 7′ room adjoining the HT room was being used as a ticket

counter.

v) A 20′ X 20′ ticket foyer  was  converted  into  Syndicate  Bank.

Sanjay Press Office was found in place of the restaurant on  the

front side.

vi) A mezzanine floor was constructed using R.S. Joists  of  timber,

at a height of 8′ above the stilt floor, to be used as  offices.

This was completely burnt in the fire.

vii) A small construction was made using RCC slabs on the mid landing

of the staircase at a height of 8′ above the stilt floor  to  be

used as offices.

viii) M/s Sehgal Carpets was occupying a partition  of  the  staircase

leading to the basement around the lift well.

Foyer/First Floor

(i)    A  refreshment  counter  was  found  constructed  between   the

expansion joint and the staircase.

(ii)  A second refreshment counter was constructed near the rear  exit

gate, 10’9” away from the auditorium exit gate.

Mezzanine Floor/Balcony

(i)   A refreshment counter covering 21′ X 9′ was  found  between  the

doors of the toilet and the staircase.

(ii)  An office room was constructed in place of the sweeper room  and

adjoining toilets.

(iii) The operator room was converted into an office-cum-bar room.

(iv)  A door of full width on the right side of the staircase  landing

between the Projection Room floor and the loft floor was found  to  be

obstructing the path to the terrace.

(v)   Sarin Associates’ reception counter was found in  the  staircase

leading to the terrace, thereby obstructing the passage way.

Top Floor

i) A large hall at the loft  level  was  converted  into  office

cabins with wooden partitions and the  same  appeared  to  be

occupied  by  Sarin  Associates,  Supreme  Builders,  Supreme

Promoters, Supreme Marketing (P) Ltd. And  Vikky  Arin  Impex

(P) Ltd.

ii) The staircase above the loft  level  was  converted  into  an

office.

(f)   That, apart from structural deviations referred to above, the  seating

arrangement within the balcony area of the cinema was itself  in  breach  of

the mandatory requirements of the  DCR, 1953 and DCR, 1981.

(1)   Relying upon the Completion Certificate Ex. PW17/DA, dated  10th

April, 1973, the Trial Court held that the number of seats  originally

sanctioned for the balcony was limited to 250 seats (two  hundred  and

fifty seats). The Court also noticed that the first seating  plan  Ex.

PW95/B1 was in conformity with the DCR, 1953 and provided a  total  of

three exits, one each on the two sides of the balcony and the third in

the middle.  Gangways leading to these exits were also found to be  in

conformity with the statutory requirements which prescribed a width of

44 inches for the same. In the year 1974, however, Sushil Ansal  (A-1)

made a request for installation of 14 seats  in  what  was  originally

sanctioned by the MCD to be an Inspection Room, pursuant  whereto  the

Inspection Room was converted into a 14-seater box with the permission

of the licensing authority. Two years later,  a  development  of  some

significance took place inasmuch  as  by  a  Notification  dated  30th

September, 1976 issued by the Lt. Governor  of  Delhi,  Uphaar  Cinema

permitted addition of 100 more seats to its existing  capacity.  Forty

three of the said additional seats were meant to be  provided  in  the

balcony by using the vertical gangways to  the  right  of  the  middle

entry/exit of the cinema  in  the  right  wing  of  the  balcony.  The

remaining 57 seats were meant for addition in the main  auditorium  of

the cinema hall. The addition of these  seats  was  approved  on  30th

September, 1976 as per the seating plan marked Ex. PW95/B-2.

(2)   As per the above seating plan the  vertical  gangway  along  the

rightmost wall of the balcony  was  completely  utilized  and  blocked

because of the installation of the additional seats whereas the  width

of the gangway along the right  side  of  the  middle  entry/exit  was

reduced to 22.5  inches,  the  remainder  of  the  space  having  been

utilized for fixing 32 additional seats in that area. The addition  of

11 more seats to the row along the back  of  the  balcony  (1  on  the

right, 8 in the middle and 2  on  the  left  side)  made  up  for  the

remainder of the 43 additional seats permitted under the Notification.

The Trial Court found that in order to compensate for the blocking and

narrowing of the gangways in the right wing, the seating plan provided

for a 44 inch wide vertical gangway along the middle of the right wing

of the balcony.  Inevitably, the altered seating arrangement  made  it

relatively more difficult for those occupying the right  wing  of  the

balcony to reach the exit.

(g)   That an eight-seater family box was added in the  year  1978  upon  an

application moved by Gopal Ansal (A-2), which had the effect  of  completely

closing the right side exit, access to which already  stood  compromised  on

account of the additional seats.

(1)   The above addition was made pursuant to a report given  by  S.N.

Dandona (A-12), since deceased, who at the relevant time was posted as

Executive Engineer, PWD and who appears to have inspected the site  on

27th June, 1978 on a reference made to him by  the  Entertainment  Tax

Officer. What is significant is that the Entertainment Tax Officer had

by his letter dated 2nd September, 1978 asked S.N. Dandona  (A-12)  to

confirm his report  pursuant  to  the  inspection  conducted  by  him,

drawing his attention to Clause 6 of the First Schedule of DCR,  1953,

which required that the total number of spectators accommodated in the

building shall not exceed 20 per 100 sq. ft. of the area available for

sitting and standing, or 20 per 133.5 sq. ft. of the overall  area  of

the floor space in the auditorium. Mr. Dandona (A-12) replied in terms

of his letter  dated  20th  September,  1978  Ex.  PW29/DN,  that  the

installation of the  eight-seater  box  was  in  accordance  with  the

prevalent DCR, 1953.

(2)   The Trial Court found fault with the installation of the  eight-

seater box and held that even though permission  for  installation  of

the box had been granted  to  the  Ansals  (A-1  and  A-2),  the  same

continued to be in clear violation of Para 10(4) of the First Schedule

to DCR, 1953 which in no uncertain terms stipulated  that  exits  from

the auditorium shall be placed suitably along both sides and along the

back thereof.

(h)   That to compensate for blocking of the exit on the right of the eight-

seater box, an exit was provided along the back  on  the  left  side.   This

addition of an exit on the left side of the  balcony  did  not  satisfy  the

stipulation under Para 10(4) of the First Schedule of DCR, 1953.

(1)   The object underlying para 10(4) of the First Schedule  of  DCR,

1953, observed the Trial Court, was to ensure rapid dispersal in  both

directions through independent stairways leading outside the building.

This necessarily meant that addition of the left  side  exit  did  not

amount to substantial compliance with  the  DCR,  1953,  declared  the

Court.

(i)   That addition of seats and closure of the right side gangway  were  in

violation of the statutory provisions and severely compromised the need  for

quick dispersal in the event of an emergency.

(1)   A further development  and  another  dimension  to  the  seating

arrangement in the balcony came in the form of  a  Notification  dated

27th July, 1979, from the Lt. Governor whereunder  the  relaxation  in

the  number  of  seats  provided  to  Uphaar  Cinema  under  the  1976

Notification was withdrawn. The withdrawal,  it  appears,  came  as  a

consequence of a judgment delivered by the High Court of  Delhi  in  a

writ petition filed by the cinema owners challenging the State’s power

to fix the price of admission tickets to the theatre. The power to fix

admission rates to the cinema having thus been  taken  away,  the  Lt.

Governor appears to have withdrawn the relaxation  in  the  number  of

additional  seats  allowed  to  the  cinema  owners  under  the   1976

Notification. This withdrawal was not acceptable to  the  Ansals  (A-1

and A-2) along with others who challenged the  same  before  the  High

Court of Delhi and obtained interim directions in their  favour.   The

High Court directed that  such  of  the  additional  seats  as  comply

substantially with the requirements of the Rules  may  be  allowed  to

stay while others which infringed the Rules may have to be removed.  A

show-cause notice was accordingly issued to Uphaar Cinema asking it to

remove all the 100 additional seats, which according to the  licensing

authority were non-compliant with  the  requirement  of  the  relevant

Rules.  Gopal Ansal (A-2) opposed the removal of these  seats  in  the

reply filed by him as Director of GPT Pvt. Ltd. stating that  all  the

additional  seats  installed  by  them   were   compliant   with   the

Cinematograph Rules and requested the authorities to apply their minds

to the direction of the High Court  regarding  substantial  compliance

with the Rules.

(2)   A fresh process  of  inspection  of  the  Cinema  was  therefore

started, pursuant to the direction of the High  Court  and  the  show-

cause notice. This inspection was conducted by  Mr.  Amod  Kanth,  DCP

(L), S.N. Dandona, Executive Engineer, MCD (A-12) and the  Chief  Fire

Officer and Executive Engineer, all of  whom  had  submitted  a  joint

report Ex.PW29/DR.  The report, inter alia, stated that 37 of  the  43

additional seats in the balcony were substantially compliant with  the

Rules while 6 additional seats on the right side of the  balcony  were

in gross contravention of Paras 7(1) and 8(1) of the First Schedule to

DCR,  1953  as  they  were  blocking  vertical  gangways  and  causing

obstruction to free egress of patrons from the  balcony.  The  said  6

seats were, therefore, required to be removed and the original  number

of vertical gangways restored.  The  result  was  that  37  additional

seats were allowed out of 43 to stay in the balcony in terms of  order

dated 24th December, 1979 marked Ex. PW29/DR passed by Mr. Amod Kanth,

DCP (L).

(3)   In his letter dated 29th July, 1980, Gopal Ansal (A-2), Director

of GPT wrote a letter Ex. PW110/AA7 to the DCP(L) for installation  of

15 additional seats in the balcony. Pursuant to the said  letter,  the

DCP (L) wrote a letter dated 20th August, 1980 (Ex.  PW29/DS)  to  the

Executive Engineer, requesting him  to  verify  whether  the  proposed

installation  of  15  seats  would  be  compliant  with  the  relevant

provisions of the DCR, 1953 and to submit a detailed report  regarding

the same. In his reply dated 3rd September, 1980, Executive  Engineer,

S.N. Dandona (A-12) stated that the proposed installation of seats was

not in accordance with the scheme of the DCR, 1953. Gopal Ansal (A-2),

therefore, submitted a revised plan for the proposed additional  seats

vide letter dated 5th September, 1980 (Ex. PW29/DV). In his report Ex.

PW29/DX dated 10th September, 1980 S.N. Dandona (A-12) stated that the

additional 15 seats would be in conformity with DCR, 1953, but  raised

a concern that the installation of the 15 additional seats would bring

the total number of seats in the balcony to 302 while the total number

of exits would remain 3 in number. As per the First  Schedule  of  the

DCR, 1953, the number of exits should be 1 per 100 seats.  This  would

imply that 2 additional seats in  the  balcony  would  be  in  excess,

unless a fourth exit was  to  be  provided.  Having  said  that,  S.N.

Dandona (A-12) excused this excess on the grounds that it was  decided

in a meeting held in October, 1979 in which the DCP(L) and Chief  Fire

Officer were present that, keeping in view the High Court’s orders for

substantial compliance, an  excess of 1% in the number of  seats  over

the required number of exits  should  be  allowed.  Pursuant  to  S.N.

Dandona’s report, the DCP(L), Amod Kanth allowed the  installation  of

the 15 additional seats in the  balcony  on  4th  October,  1980.  The

result was that 15 additional seats were installed as per the  seating

plan marked Ex. PW95/B4. The Trial Court further  found  that  DCP(L),

Amod Kanth, S.N. Dandona (A-12),  Chief  Fire  Officer  and  Executive

Engineer were equally responsible for not noticing the closure of  the

right side exit.

(4)   The Trial Court found that the addition of seats as also closure

of the right side exit because of installation of the  family  box  in

that area, in the process blocking one vertical gangway, narrowing  of

another and partial blocking of the third (new) exit on the left  side

of the balcony were all in violation of the statutory  provisions  and

severely compromised the safety of the patrons  visiting  the  cinema.

The Trial Court also held that  because  of  the  alterations  in  the

seating plan on account of the addition of seats and blocking  of  the

right side exit, rapid dispersal of the patrons in  the  event  of  an

emergency  was  seriously  jeopardized,  which   amounted   to   gross

negligence on the part of the owners and management of Uphaar  Cinema,

as well as those who were responsible for sanctioning the changes.

(5)   The Trial Court, in  fact,  went  a  step  further  and  ordered

further investigation of the offence under Section 173(8) of the  CrPC

vis-a-vis the persons left out by the CBI,  particularly  the  DCP(L),

Amod Kanth against whom the Association of Victims of  Uphaar  Tragedy

had filed an application under Section 319  of  the  CrPC.  The  Trial

Court held that the balcony seating plans showed that the  authorities

responsible for  the  enforcement  of  the  Rules  as  well  as  their

subordinates who were to carry out inspections were in connivance with

the proprietors of the cinema, Sushil and Gopal Ansal  (A-1  and  A-2)

who acted in connivance with each other  with  a  view  to  making  an

unlawful gain at the cost of the public.

(j)   That the owners of  Uphaar  Cinema  who  carried  out  the  structural

deviations, the officers of the MCD who granted ‘No Objection’  certificates

for running the cinema hall for the years 1995-96 and  1996-97  respectively

despite the structural deviations existing in the cinema  building  and  the

managers of Uphaar Cinema who turned a blind eye to the said deviations  and

the threat to public safety caused by them, were the direct cause  of  death

of 59 persons and 100 injured in the cinema hall. The act of the  gatekeeper

in fleeing from the cinema hall without unbolting the door  of  balcony  was

also found to be a direct cause of the death of persons inside the balcony.

(1)   As regards the unfolding of events  in  the  balcony  after  the

smoke began  to  spread  inside,  the  Trial  Court  relied  upon  the

depositions of patrons seated in the balcony, PWs 1, 3, 7, 8, 11 &  12

who were fortunate to survive the ordeal, but all of whom had lost  in

the tragedy some of their relatives who accompanied them to the movie.

The Trial Court also relied  upon  the  depositions  of  relatives  of

deceased patrons from the balcony, examined as PWs 4, 5, 6, 9, 10,  13

& 66, who were not among those in the cinema hall themselves  but  who

had rushed  to  the  scene  upon  learning  about  the  disaster.  The

deposition of the complainant Security Guard, Sudhir Kumar (PW63)  who

first noticed the fire and helped in rescue operations was also relied

upon. Relying upon the above evidence, the Trial Court arrived at  the

following conclusions:

i) Since the patrons were trapped inside the balcony  which  was

engulfed by the  smoke,  those  who  succumbed  died  due  to

inhalation of smoke.

ii) The patrons  seated  in  the  balcony  were  unable  to  save

themselves in time  since  there  were  no  proper  means  of

escape.

iii) Though four exits were statutorily required in  the  balcony,

only three were provided.

iv) As previously held, the alterations made to  the  balcony  by

the  owners  of  Uphaar  Cinema  in  contravention  of  legal

provisions became a hindrance to egress into the open air for

patrons in the balcony, as a result of which the said patrons

could not save themselves in time.

v) Three exit doors were bolted. After  becoming  aware  of  the

fire in the building, the gatekeeper, Manmohan  Uniyal  (A-8)

fled the scene without unbolting the exit doors.

vi) Since the doors had been bolted, one of the doors had  to  be

pushed open by the trapped patrons in order to come out  into

open space. This endeavour took 10-15 minutes, which resulted

in a sufficient amount of exposure  to  the  toxic  gases  to

cause the death of the persons inhaling the same.

vii) Moreover, since descending the staircase would only take  the

patrons into denser smoke, people attempted to climb  upwards

towards the terrace. However, their path was  obstructed  due

to the unauthorised construction of the commercial office  of

M/s Sareen Associates on the landing of the staircase on  the

top floor, which created  a  bottleneck  and  facilitated  in

causing the death of  more  patrons.  Moreover,  one  of  the

structural deviations previously noted by the Trial Court was

the presence of a full width door on the right  side  of  the

stair case  landing  on  the  top  floor,  which  created  an

obstruction for going to the terrace.

viii) It is revealed from the  inspection  reports  that  the  four

exhaust fans which were to face an open space instead  opened

out into the staircase.

ix) As previously held, the existing structural deviations in the

building obstructed the egress of patrons  into  open  spaces

and thereby  directly  contributed  to  their  deaths.  These

blatant structural deviations were never objected to  by  the

MCD, a government body  which  is  responsible  for  ensuring

compliance with building plans.

x) The eye-witnesses have unanimously  deposed  that  once  they

realized that smoke was entering the hall and a hue  and  cry

was raised, no one from the management of the cinema  theatre

was there to help them escape. Instead, the managers fled the

scene without thought for the patrons.

xi) There were no fire alarms or emergency lighting, nor was  any

public announcement made to warn the patrons of the fire.

xii) As per the deposition of  the  Projector  Operator,  Madhukar

Bagde (PW85), an  announcement  system  was  present  in  the

Projector Room but the same was out of order. He deposed that

he  had  previously  informed  K.L.  Malhotra  (A-4),   since

deceased, to have the same  rectified.  This  fact  was  also

verified in the report of PW64, Dr. Rajinder Singh.

xiii)  The  managers  being  directly  responsible  for  the  daily

functioning of the cinema failed in their duty to ensure  the

safety of the patrons seated inside. They  grossly  neglected

their duties to take measures to  prevent  fires  and  follow

fire safety regulations, which caused the  death  of  patrons

trapped inside.

xiv) It  is  writ  large  that  the  failure  of  the  owners  and

management of Uphaar Cinema to adhere to provisions  relating

to fire safety caused the death/injury of those who had  gone

to view the film in the cinema.

xv) The factors which constituted the direct and proximate  cause

of death of 59 persons and injury of 100  persons  in  Uphaar

cinema were  the  installation  of  the  DVB  transformer  in

violation of law,  faulty  repair  of  the  DVB  transformer,

presence of combustible  material  in  the  cinema  building,

parking of cars near the transformer room, alterations in the

balcony obstructing egress, structural  deviations  resulting

in closure of escape routes in the building at  the  time  of

the incident, bolting of the exit doors from outside and  the

absence of fire fighting measures and  two  trained  firemen,

during the exhibition of the film in the cinema building

(k)   That the cause of death of the  59  victims  was  asphyxia  caused  by

prolonged inhalation of smoke consisting of carbon monoxide and other  toxic

gases.

(1)   On the basis of the result of the post-mortem examination on the

dead body of Captain M.S. Bhinder, the Trial Court held that  all  the

victims died on account of the very same cause  as  was  found  to  be

responsible for the demise  of  Captain  Bhinder.  Reliance  was  also

placed by the Trial Court upon the reports submitted  by  a  Board  of

Medical Experts from AIIMS which proposed that the death of 59 victims

of asphyxia was caused due to inhalation of smoke consisting of carbon

monoxide and other toxic gases. On the basis of  the  expert  opinion,

the Court concluded that the cause of death of the persons sitting  in

the balcony was due to inhalation of smoke. The Court noted  that  the

effect of gases is rapid as the fatal period for carbon monoxide  with

10% concentration is within 20-30 minutes while the  fatal  period  of

hydrocyanic acid is 2-20 minutes. The combustion of materials released

such toxic compounds, which in turn caused rapid death of the victims.

The Court also held that  immediate  well-organized  intensive  rescue

operations could have saved many lives.

28.   In conclusion and on the basis of the findings  recorded  by  it,  the

Trial  Court  convicted  Sushil  Ansal  (A-1)  and  Gopal  Ansal  (A-2)  for

commission of the offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337 and 338  read

with Section 36 of IPC and sentenced each one of them  to  undergo  rigorous

imprisonment for a period of two years with  a  fine  of  Rs.5,000/-  and  a

default sentence of six months. They were also convicted  under  Section  14

of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 and sentenced to pay a fine of Rs.1,000/-  or

undergo two months imprisonment in default. All the sentences were  directed

to run concurrently. The Trial Court further convicted  S.S.  Sharma  (A-13)

and N.D. Tiwari (A-14) who were officials of the  Municipal  Corporation  of

Delhi apart from H.S. Panwar (A-15), Divisional Officer, Delhi Fire  Service

under the above provisions and  sentenced  them  similarly  to  undergo  two

years rigorous  imprisonment  and  a  fine  of  Rs.5,000/-  besides  default

sentence of six months imprisonment. In addition, the Trial Court found  the

charges framed against the Managers of GPT, namely, R.K. Sharma (A-5),  N.S.

Chopra  (A-6)  and  Assistant  Manager  Ajit  Choudhary  (A-7)  as  well  as

gatekeeper Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) under Section 304 read with Section 36  IPC

proved and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a  period  of

seven years with a fine of Rs.5,000/- and a default sentence of six  months.

29.   B.M. Satija (A-9)  and  A.K.  Gera  (A-10)  who  happened  to  be  DVB

Inspectors at the relevant point of time and Bir Singh (A-11)  who  happened

to be DVB Senior Fitter were similarly  convicted  under  Section  304  read

with  Section  36  IPC  and  sentenced  to  undergo  seven  years   rigorous

imprisonment besides a fine of Rs.5,000/- and  a  default  sentence  of  six

months imprisonment.  Proceedings against R.M. Puri (A-3), Director  of  GPT

and  K.L.  Malhotra  (A-4)  Deputy  General  Manager,  S.N.  Dandona  (A-12)

Executive Engineer, PWD and Surender  Dutt  (A-16)  Station  Officer,  Delhi

Fire Service, all of whom died during the pendency of the trial,  were  held

to  have  abated.  Not  only  that,  the  Trial   Court   directed   further

investigation into the matter under Section  173(8)  Cr.P.C.  in  regard  to

other persons including  Amod  Kanth  DCP(L)  for  allowing  the  cinema  to

function on temporary permits and for not demanding the detailed  inspection

reports before issuing such permits.

Findings of the High Court:

30.   Aggrieved by the judgment and order passed against them,  all  the  12

accused persons convicted by the Trial Court preferred  appeals  before  the

Delhi High Court. The Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy also filed  a

revision petition challenging the judgment and order of the Trial  Court  to

the extent  the  same  convicted  the  accused  persons  only  for  offences

punishable under Section 304A IPC instead of Section 304, Part II  IPC.  The

High Court, as noticed in the beginning  of  this  order,  disposed  of  the

aforementioned appeal  by  a  common  judgment  dated  19th  December,  2008

whereby the High Court affirmed the findings of fact recorded by  the  Trial

Court.  We may at this stage briefly refer to  the  said  findings  for  the

sake of clarity.

I     Re: Ownership, Management and Control of Uphaar Cinema:

(i)     In  para  9.68  of  its  judgment  the  High  Court  held  that  the

ownership, management and control of Uphaar Cinema  vested  with  the  Ansal

brothers (A-1 and A-2) at all material times.

(ii)  In para 9.62 of its judgment the  High  Court  affirmed  the  findings

recorded by the Trial Court and held that Ansal brothers (A-1 and A-2)  were

responsible for all major decisions in regard to management and  affairs  of

the Uphaar Cinema such as:

(a)   The decision regarding installation of  DVB  transformer  within

the cinema premises.

(b)   The decision relating to re-arrangement of seating plan  in  the

balcony which was in violation of DCR, 1953 and DCR, 1981.

(c)     The  decision  regarding  closure  of  right  side   exit   by

installation of eight-seater family box.

(d)   The decision regarding placement  of  additional  seats  in  the

balcony.

(e)   The grant of contracts for use of parking space.

(f)   The exercise of unlimited financial  powers  on  behalf  of  the

company and the power to create  encumbrances  and  charges  over  its

assets.

(g)   The decision relating to commercial use of the building.

(h)   The decisions concerning day-to-day affairs of the company.

(iii) In paras 9.63 and 9.64 the High Court held that the Ansals (A-1 and A-

2) were not only the Directors of  the  company  but  had  continued  to  be

involved in its day-to-day functioning even after they ceased to be so.

(iv)  The High Court further held that merely because the letter  dated  6th

March, 1997 had presented R.M. Puri and K.L. Malhotra (both since  deceased)

as authorised signatories of the company for operating the  cinema  and  for

dealing  with  the  licensing  authority  did  not  mean  that  a   specific

nomination in their favour was made in terms of Rule 10(2) of DCR,  1953  or

the corresponding provision under DCR, 1981.  The High Court held  that  the

shareholding pattern of the  company  revealed  that  the  major/predominant

shareholding continued to remain with the Ansal family and at  no  point  of

time was any outsider shown to have held any of the 5000  shares  issued  by

the company.

(v)   In para 9.67 of its  judgment  the  High  Court  held  that  from  the

deposition of those shown to be the Directors of the  company  in  the  year

1996 to 1997, it is evident that  even  though  they  had  attended  certain

meetings of the Board, they were completely unaware  of  the  vital  aspects

including the fact that Uphaar Cinema was being run by  Ansal  Theatres  and

Clubotels Pvt. Ltd. and whether they were in fact Directors or empowered  to

act on behalf of the company.

II    Re: DVB Transformer:

(i)   In para 7.4 the High Court held that  the  DVB  transformer  had  been

installed against the provision of the Electricity Rules.

(ii)  In paras 7.10 and 7.12 of its judgment the  High  Court  rejected  the

submission made on behalf of Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal  (A-2)  that

they were coerced in providing space for the DVB transformer.

(iii) In paras 7.94, 7.95 and 7.96 of its judgment the High  Court  affirmed

the findings recorded by the Trial Court that the  DVB  transformer  was  in

poor maintenance on the date of the incident on account of the following:

A)  Protection  relays  which  could  have  tripped  off  the   DVB

transformer were missing.

B) The LT side cables from the bus bar did not have clamping system

or support to the cables.

C) The earth cable was in a twisted condition; and

D)  The Buchholtz relay system was not fitted on the transformer.

31.   The High Court comprehensively  dealt  with  the  cause  of  fire  and

affirmed the findings recorded by the Trial Court that the fire had  started

from the DVB transformer on account of the improper repair  carried  out  on

the same without use of a crimping machine because of  which  the  LT  cable

had got disconnected on the B-phase  and  an  opening  was  created  on  the

radiator fin when the live cable fell upon it and caused  a  short  circuit.

The High Court summed up the cause of the fire in paras 7.124 and  7.125  of

its judgment.

32.    The  High  Court  held  that  the  correspondence  relating  to   the

installation of the DVB transformer did not suggest any  element  of  threat

or use of force or economic power on the part of the DVB. On  the  contrary,

the correspondence revealed an anxiety on the part of cinema  management  to

start its operation.  It also held in paras 7.10 and 7.11  of  its  judgment

that the Uphaar establishment was  a  beneficiary  of  the  DVB  transformer

since some parts of the building which  were  let  out  to  tenants  of  the

establishment were receiving electricity supply from the  said  transformer.

III   Re: Car Parking:

33.   In para 7.17 of its judgment the  High  Court  affirmed  the  findings

recorded by the Trial Court that the parking of extra cars and  the  parking

of cars close to the transformer room  blocking  the  16  ft.  wide  passage

which was meant to be kept free for the  movement  of  vehicles,  aggravated

the fire and contributed to the incident.  The  High  Court  held  that  the

owners and the management of Uphaar Cinema  had  blatantly  disregarded  the

requirements of law and the sanctioned plan thereby  putting  the  lives  of

its patrons at risk. The High Court further held that  Ansal  brothers  (A-1

and A-2) or the Managers had not conveyed  to  the  parking  contractor  the

legal and safety requirement of maintaining  a  safe  distance  between  the

vehicles and the transformer room while entering into a parking contract  in

the year 1988 nor was the parking arrangement subject to any kind of  check.

The outsourcing of the car  parking  did  not,  observed  the  High  Court,

absolve the cinema management which  was  the  occupier  and  owner  of  the

premises of their duty to ensure that vehicles parked immediately below  the

viewing area were maintained keeping all safety standards in mind.

IV    Re: Structural Deviations:

34.   In paras 7.39 to 7.60 of its judgment  the  High  Court  affirmed  the

findings recorded by the Trial  Court  that  several  structural  deviations

apart from violation in the balcony had been committed by the management  of

the cinema hall.  The High  Court  held  that  construction  of  refreshment

counters on the first floor of the cinema hall  inhibited  free  passage  of

the patrons which was crucial in the event of an emergency and  amounted  to

violation of para 10(1) of the First Schedule of DCR, 1953  and  were  hence

in breach of the provisions of Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act  and  the

licence issued thereunder.  Similarly, the exhaust fans were so placed  that

they opened into the hall of the front staircase instead of opening into  an

open space. The structural deviations, according to the High Court,  assumed

an incrementally risky character which the cinema  occupier  was  aware  of.

Similarly, the other violations referred to by the High Court including  the

storage and use of combustible materials and closing of one  of  the  exits,

besides shifting of the gangway contributed  to  violations  that  prevented

quick dispersal of the patrons from the balcony area thereby culminating  in

the tragedy.

V     Re: Seating arrangement in the balcony:

35.   The High Court dealt with blocking of the right side exit  by  placing

an 8-seater family box, addition of seats on the left side  of  the  balcony

that prevented quick dispersal of  the  patrons,  providing  gangways  which

were less than the required width and fixing of seats obstructing  the  left

side (new) exit all of which contributed  to  a  situation  from  which  the

victims could not escape to save their lives. The High  Court  further  held

that  blocking  of  the  right  side  exit  by  the  8-seater  box  rendered

ineffective the mandate of para 9(1),  DCR,  1953  which  required  that  at

least two stairways be provided for public use each  not  less  than  4  ft.

wide.  Each one of these deviations had, according to the  High  Court,  the

effect of substantially increasing the risk to a point  where  an  emergency

requiring  rapid  egress  from  the  balcony  area  could  not   have   been

effectively handled to save human lives.

36.   The High Court also affirmed the findings of the Trial  Court  on  the

following aspect and held that –

(i)   Patrons were exposed to smoke for a long time and many were unable  to

leave the place swiftly.

(ii)  Several eye witnesses had deposed that the balcony doors were bolted.

iii) The entry/exit doors leading to the foyer had to be forced open.

iv) The gatekeeper, Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) who was on duty at the  time

of the incident, had left his duty without unbolting the doors.

v) Absence of emergency lighting arrangements and absence of help  at

the critical juncture exposed the patrons to thick dense smoke for

a long period that hindered their  movement  and  finally  claimed

many lives.

(vi) No public address system was in  use  nor  were  there  any  emergency

lights.

(vii) The cause of death was asphyxiation due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

(viii) Many patrons who had managed to escape from the balcony were  trapped

and had to break the open windows to flee.

(ix)  Eye witness accounts established the presence of fire  and  hot  smoke

in the ground floor from 5.05 pm to 6.20  p.m.  and  the  presence  of

smoke in the balcony even as late as 5.45 p.m.  when  the  Chief  Fire

Officer removed 3 persons from the balcony.

37.   The High Court on the above findings upheld the conviction  of  Sushil

Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2).  It also upheld the  conviction  of  H.S.

Panwar (A-15) for offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337 and 338  read

with Section 36 of the IPC but reduced the sentence awarded  to  them  under

Section 304A to one year rigorous imprisonment without interfering with  the

fine imposed by the Trial Court. The High Court also  reduced  the  sentence

awarded to the aforementioned three appellants under Section  337  to  three

months rigorous imprisonment and under Section  338  to  one  year  rigorous

imprisonment with the direction that the sentences  shall  run  concurrently

including the sentence  awarded  to  Ansal  brothers  (A-1  and  A-2)  under

Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act for  which  too  the  said  two  accused

persons were convicted.

38.   As regards the conviction of Manmohan Uniyal  (A-8)  gatekeeper,  B.M.

Satija (A-9) DVB Inspector and Bir Singh (A-11) Senior Fitter DVB, the  High

Court altered the same from Section 304 Part II read with Section 36 IPC  to

Sections 304A , 337 and 338 read with Section 36 IPC. The  sentence  awarded

to them was accordingly reduced to two years rigorous  imprisonment  with  a

fine of Rs.2,000/- under Section 304A, 6 months rigorous  imprisonment  with

a fine of Rs.500/- under Section 337  and  one  year  rigorous  imprisonment

with a fine of Rs.1,000/- under Section 338 with a default sentence of  four

months. The sentences were directed to run concurrently.

39.   The remaining convicted persons,  namely,  R.K.  Sharma  (A-5),  since

deceased, N.S. Chopra (A-6) as well as A.K. Gera (A-10) DVB Inspector,  S.S.

Sharma (A-13) and N.D. Tiwari (A-14), MCD Officials were  acquitted  by  the

High Court and the revision petition filed  by  Association  of  Victims  of

Uphaar Tragedy dismissed.

40.   Appeals  have  been  filed  before  us  by  all  those  convicted  and

sentenced to  undergo  imprisonment  by  the  High  Court,  except  for  the

convicted gatekeeper, Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) who has served out the  sentence

awarded to him by the Courts below. We also have before us Criminal  Appeals

No.605-616 of 2010 filed by the CBI challenging the  acquittal  recorded  by

the  High  Court  in  favour  of  the  four  persons  mentioned  above.  The

Association of Victims of Uphaar Cinema  has  also  filed  Criminal  Appeals

No.600-602 of 2010 in which they have  challenged  the  order  of  acquittal

recorded by the High Court and prayed for a retrial of the  accused  persons

for the offence punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC.

41.   We have heard learned counsel for the parties at considerable  length,

who were at pains to refer to the evidence adduced at the trial to  buttress

their respective submissions.  Broadly stated the following questions  arise

for our determination:

I) Whether the concurrent findings of  fact  recorded  by  the  Courts

below prove the commission of any rash and/or negligent act by  the

accused persons or any one of them within the  meaning  of  Section

304A of the IPC?

II) Was the High Court justified in  acquitting  the  Respondents  no.4

(N.S. Chopra), no.7 (A.K. Gera),  no.10  (S.S.  Sharma)  and  no.11

(N.D. Tiwari) respondent in  Criminal  Appeal  No.605-616  of  2010

filed by the CBI?

(III) Is there any basis for holding that the accused or  any  one  of  them

was guilty of an offence of culpable homicide not amounting to  murder

punishable under Section 304 Part II of the IPC so  as  to  justify  a

retrial of the accused persons for the said offence?

(IV)  Whether the sentence awarded to those found guilty by the  High  Court

deserves to be enhanced?

(V)   What relief and/or general or specific directions need  be  issued  in

the matter having regard to the nature of the incident?

42.   We propose to deal with the above questions ad seriatim.

Re: Question No.I:

43.   Since this question has several facets to it, we propose to deal  with

the same under the following sub-headings to ensure clarity  and  avoid  any

possible confusion or repetition:

i) Scope of a criminal appeal by special leave

ii) ‘Rash’ or ‘Negligent’ – Meaning of

iii) What constitutes negligence?

iv) Difference between Negligence in civil actions and that in criminal

cases.

v) The doctrine of causa causans.

vi) Whether Ansal brothers were occupiers of Uphaar Cinema building?

vii) Degree and nature of care expected  of  an  occupier  of  a  cinema

building.

viii)  Whether  the  accused  were  negligent  and  if  so,  whether  the

negligence was gross?

ix) Contentions urged in defence and the findings thereon.

(i)   Scope of a Criminal Appeal by Special Leave:

44.   The scope of a criminal appeal by  special  leave  filed  before  this

Court has been examined in several pronouncements of  this  Court  over  the

past few decades. It is unnecessary to burden this judgment by referring  to

all those pronouncements, for a reference to only some  of  those  decisions

should suffice.  Among them the scope of an appeal by  special  leave  in  a

criminal matter was considered by a three-Judge Bench of this Court in  Mst.

Dalbir Kaur v. State of Punjab (1976) 4 SCC 158 and the principle  governing

interference by this Court in criminal appeals by special  leave  summarized

in the following words:

“8. Thus the principles governing interference by this Court  in

a criminal appeal by special leave may be summarised as follows:

(1)   that   this   Court   would    not    interfere    with

the concurrent finding of fact based on pure appreciation  of

evidence even if it were to take  a  different  view  on  the

evidence;

(2)  that  the  Court  will  not  normally   enter   into   a

reappraisement  or  review  of  the  evidence,   unless   the

assessment of the High Court is vitiated by an error  of  law

or procedure or is based on error of  record,  misreading  of

evidence or is inconsistent with the evidence, for  instance,

where the ocular evidence is totally  inconsistent  with  the

medical evidence and so on;

(3) that the Court would not enter into  credibility  of  the

evidence with a view to substitute its own opinion  for  that

of the High Court;

(4) that the Court would interfere where the High  Court  has

arrived at a  finding  of fact in  disregard  of  a  judicial

process, principles of natural justice or a fair  hearing  or

has acted in violation of a mandatory  provision  of  law  or

procedure resulting in serious prejudice or injustice to  the

accused;

(5)  this  Court  might   also   interfere   where   on   the

proved facts wrong inferences of law have been drawn or where

the conclusions of the High Court are manifestly perverse and

based on no evidence: It is very difficult to lay down a rule

of universal application but the principles  mentioned  above

and those adumbrated in the authorities of this  Court  cited

supra provide sufficient guidelines for this Court to  decide

criminal appeals by special leave. Thus in a criminal  appeal

by special leave, this Court  at  the  hearing  examines  the

evidence and the judgment of the High Court with the  limited

purpose of determining whether or  not  the  High  Court  has

followed the principles enunciated  above.  Where  the  Court

finds that the High Court has committed no violation  of  the

various principles laid down by this Court  and  has  made  a

correct approach and has not ignored or  overlooked  striking

features in the evidence which demolish the prosecution case,

the findings of fact arrived at  by  the  High  Court  on  an

appreciation of the evidence in the circumstances of the case

would not be disturbed.”

45.   In Radha Mohan Singh @ Lal Sahib and Ors. v. State of  U.P.  (2006)  2

SCC  450,  this  Court  declared  that  it  will  not  normally  enter  into

reappraisal or review of evidence in an appeal  under  Article  136  of  the

Constitution unless the Trial Court or the  High  Court  is  shown  to  have

committed an error of law or procedure and the conclusions  arrived  at  are

found to be perverse. To the same effect is the decision of  this  Court  in

Raj Narain Singh v. State of U.P. and Ors. (2009) 10  SCC  362,  where  this

Court held that the scope of appeal under Article 136  of  the  Constitution

was very limited and that this Court does  not  exercise  overriding  powers

under the said provision to reweigh the evidence and disturb the  concurrent

findings of fact reached upon proper appreciation. We may also refer to  the

decision of this Court in Surendra Pal and Ors. v. State of  U.P.  and  Anr.

(2010) 9 SCC 399 where this Court held that it could not embark upon  a  re-

appreciation of the evidence when both  the  Sessions  Court  and  the  High

Court had agreed in their  appreciation  of  the  evidence  and  arrived  at

concurrent findings of fact. This Court cautioned that it was  necessary  to

bear in mind the limited scope of the proceedings under Article 136  of  the

Constitution which cannot be converted into a  third  appeal  on  facts  and

that mere errors  are  not  enough  to  attract  this  Court’s  invigilatory

jurisdiction. A  similar  view  was  expressed  by  this  Court  in  Amitava

Banerjee v. State of West Bengal (2011) 12 SCC 554 and Mohd. Arif  v.  State

(NCT) of Delhi, (2011) 13 SCC 621 to which decisions one of us (Thakur,  J.)

was a party.

46.   Suffice it to say that this Court is not an ordinary Court  of  appeal

obliged  to  reappraise  the  evidence  and  record  its   conclusion.   The

jurisdiction to interfere under Article 136 is extraordinary and  the  power

vested in this Court is not exercised to upset concurrent findings  of  fact

recorded by the two Courts below on a proper appreciation  of  evidence.  It

is only in those rare  and  exceptional  cases  where  the  appreciation  of

evidence is found to be wholly unsatisfactory or the conclusion  drawn  from

the same perverse in nature, causing miscarriage of justice that this  Court

may correct the course of justice and undo  the  wrong.  Perversity  in  the

findings, illegality or irregularity in the trial that results in  injustice

or failure to take into consideration an important  piece  of  evidence  are

some of the situations in which  this  Court  may  reappraise  the  evidence

adduced at the trial but not otherwise. The scope of interference  with  the

findings of fact concurrently  found  by  the  Trial  Court  and  the  First

Appellate Court is thus permissible as  a  rarity  only  in  the  situations

enumerated above and not as a matter of course or for mere asking.

(ii)  ‘Rash’ or ‘Negligent’ – Meaning of:

47.   Section 304A of the IPC makes any act  causing  death  by  a  rash  or

negligent  act  not  amounting  to  culpable   homicide,   punishable   with

imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two  years

or with fine or with both.  It reads:

“304A. Causing death by negligence.– Whoever causes  the  death

of any person by doing any rash or negligent act  not  amounting

to culpable homicide shall  be  punished  with  imprisonment  of

either description for a term which may extend to two years,  or

with fine, or with both.”

48.   The terms ‘rash’ or ‘negligent’ appearing in  Section  304A  extracted

above have not been defined in the Code.  Judicial pronouncements  have  all

the same given a meaning which has been long accepted as  the  true  purport

of the two expressions appearing in the provisions. One of the  earliest  of

these pronouncements was in Empress of India v. Idu Beg  ILR  (1881)  3  All

776, where Straight J. explained that  in  the  case  of  a  rash  act,  the

criminality lies in running the risk of doing an act  with  recklessness  or

indifference as to consequences.  A similar meaning was given  to  the  term

‘rash’ by the High Court of Madras in  In Re: Nidamarti Negaghushanam 7  Mad

HCR 119, where the Court held that culpable rashness meant acting  with  the

consciousness that a mischievous and illegal  consequence  may  follow,  but

hoping that it will not. Culpability in the case of rashness arises  out  of

the person concerned acting despite the consciousness. These meanings  given

to the expression ‘rash’, have broadly met the approval of this  Court  also

as is evident from a conspectus of decisions delivered from  time  to  time,

to which we shall presently advert.  But before we do so, we  may  refer  to

the  following  passage  from  “A  Textbook  of  Jurisprudence”  by   George

Whitecross Paton reliance whereupon was placed by Mr. Jethmalani in  support

of his submission. Rashness  according  to  Paton  means  “where  the  actor

foresees possible consequences, but foolishly thinks they will not occur  as

a result of his act”.

49.   In the case of ‘negligence’ the Courts have favoured a  meaning  which

implies a gross and culpable neglect or failure to exercise that  reasonable

and proper care and precaution to guard against injury either to the  public

generally or to an individual which having regard to all  the  circumstances

out of which the charge arises,  it  may  be  the  imperative  duty  of  the

accused to have adopted.  Negligence has been understood to be  an  omission

to do something which a reasonable  man  guided  upon  those  considerations

which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do,  or  doing

something which a  prudent  and  reasonable  person  would  not  do.  Unlike

rashness,  where  the  imputability   arises   from   acting   despite   the

consciousness, negligence implies acting without such consciousness, but  in

circumstances which show that  the  actor  has  not  exercised  the  caution

incumbent upon him.  The imputability in the case of negligence arises  from

the neglect of the civil duty of circumspection.

(iii) What constitutes Negligence?:

50.   The expression ‘negligence’ has also not been  defined  in  the  Penal

Code, but, that has not deterred  the  Courts  from  giving  what  has  been

widely acknowledged as a reasonably acceptable meaning to the term.  We  may

before referring to the judicial pronouncements on the subject refer to  the

dictionary meaning of the term ‘negligence’.

51.   Black’s Law Dictionary defines negligence as under:

“The failure to exercise the standard of care that a  reasonably

prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation;  any

conduct that falls  below  the  legal  standard  established  to

protect others against unreasonable risk  of  harm,  except  for

conduct  that   is   intentionally,   wantonly,   or   willfully

disregardful of other’s rights.”

52.   Charlesworth and Percy on Negligence  (Twelfth  Edition)  gives  three

meanings to negligence in forensic speech viz: (i) in referring to  a  state

of mind, when it is distinguished in  particular  from  intention;  (ii)  in

describing conduct of a careless type; and (iii) as the breach of a duty  to

take care imposed by either common law or statute.  The three  meanings  are

then explained thus:

“The first  meaning:  Negligence  as  a  state  of  mind  can  be

contrasted with intention.  An act  is  intentional  when  it  is

purposeful and done with the desire  or  object  of  producing  a

particular result.  In contrast, negligence in the present  sense

arises  where  someone  either  fails  to  consider  a  risk   of

particular action, or having considered it,  fails  to  give  the

risk appropriate weight.

The second meaning: Negligence can also  be  used  as  a  way  to

characterize conduct, although such a use may lead to imprecision

when considering negligence as a tort.  Careless conduct does not

necessarily give rise to breach of a duty of care,  the  defining

characteristic of the tort of negligence.  The extent of  a  duty

of care and the standard of care required in performance of  that

duty are both relevant in considering whether, on any given facts

conduct which can be characterized as careless, is actionable  in

law.

“The third meaning: The third meaning of negligence, and the  one

with which this  volume  is  principally  concerned,  is  conduct

which, objectively considered, amounts to breach  of  a  duty  to

take care”.

53.   Clerk & Lindsell on Torts (Eighteenth Edition) sets out the  following

four separate requirements of the tort of negligence:

“(1) the existence in law of a duty of care situation, i.e.  one

in which the law attaches liability to carelessness.  There  has

to be recognition by law that the  careless  infliction  of  the

kind of damages in suit on the class  of  person  to  which  the

claimant belongs by the class of person to which  the  defendant

belongs is actionable;

(2) breach of the duty of care by the defendant, i.e.,  that  it

failed to measure up to the standard set by law;

(3) a casual connection between the defendant’s careless conduct

and the damage;

(4) that  the  particular  kind  of  damage  to  the  particular

claimant is not so unforeseeable as to be too remote.”

54.   Law of Torts by Rattanlal &  Dhirajlal,  explains  negligence  in  the

following words:

“Negligence is the breach of a duty caused by the omission to do

something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations

which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do,

or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would  not

do.  Actionable negligence consists in the neglect of the use of

ordinary care or skill towards a person to  whom  the  defendant

owes the duty of observing ordinary care  and  skill,  by  which

neglect the plaintiff has  suffered  injury  to  his  person  or

property.  According to Winfield, “negligence as a tort  is  the

breach of a legal duty to take care  which  results  in  damage,

undesired by the defendant to the  plaintiff”.   The  definition

involves three constituents of negligence: (1) A legal  duty  to

exercise due care on the part of the party complained of towards

the party complaining the former’s conduct within the  scope  of

the duty; (2) Breach of the said  duty;  and  (3)  consequential

damage. Cause of action for negligence arises only  when  damage

occurs for damage is a necessary ingredient of this  tort.   But

as  damage  may  occur  before  it  is  discovered;  it  is  the

occurrence of damage which is the starting point of the cause of

action.

55.   The above was approved by this Court in Jacob Mathew   v.    State  of

Punjab and Another (2005) 6 SCC 1.

56.   The duty to care in cases whether civil or criminal  including  injury

arising out of use of buildings is examined by courts,  vis-à-vis  occupiers

of such bindings.  In Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad, 248 NY 339,  Justice

Cardozo explained the orbit of the duty of care of an occupier as under:

“If no hazard was apparent to the eye of ordinary vigilance,  an

act innocent and harmless, at  least  to  outward  seeming  with

reference to her, did not take to itself the quality of  a  tort

because it happened to be a wrong,  though  apparently  not  one

involving the risk  of  bodily  insecurity,  with  reference  to

someone else…Even then, the orbit of the danger  as  disclosed

to the eye of reasonable vigilance would be  the  orbit  of  the

duty.”

57.   To the same effect is the decision in Hartwell v.  Grayson  Rollo  and

Clover Docks Limited and Others (1947) KB 901 where the duty of an  occupier

who invites people to a premises, to take reasonable  care  that  the  place

does not contain any danger or to inform those coming  to  the  premises  of

the hidden dangers, if any, was explained thus:

“In my opinion the true view  is  that  when  a  person  invites

another to a place where they both have business, the invitation

creates a duty on the part of the  invitor  to  take  reasonable

care that the place does not  contain  or  to  give  warning  of

hidden dangers, no matter  whether  the  place  belongs  to  the

invitor or is in his exclusive occupation.”

58.   The duty of a theatre owner to his patrons was outlined as follows  in

Rosston v. Sullivan, 278 Mass 31 (1932):

“The general duty to use ordinary care and diligence to put  and

keep this theatre in a reasonably safe condition, having  regard

to the construction of the place, character of the entertainment

given and the customary conduct of persons attending.”

59.   The above case was cited with approval in Helen Upham  v.  Chateau  De

Ville Theatre Inc 380 Mass 350 (1980).

60.   The Supreme Court of Wyoming in Mostert v. CBL & Associates, et.  Al.,

741 P.2d 1090 (Wyo. 1987) held that the owner of  a  theatre,  AMC  owed  an

affirmative duty to patrons as “business visitor invitees”  to  inform  them

of off-premises dangers (in that case a flash flood) which  were  reasonably

foreseeable:

“We conclude that  appellee  AMC  owed  the  Mostert  family  an

affirmative duty to exercise reasonable  or  ordinary  care  for

their safety which includes an obligation to advise them of off-

premises danger that might reasonably be foreseeable. We are not

suggesting by our determination that AMC had a duty to  restrain

its patrons or even a duty to advise them what to do.  The  duty

as we see it is only to reveal what AMC knew to its customers.”

61.   In Brown v. B & F Theatres Ltd., (1947) S.C.R. 486, the Supreme Court

of Canada held  the  liability  of  a  theatre  owner  to  be  90%  and  the

contributory negligence of the appellant to  be  10%  in  a  case  with  the

following facts:

“The appellant, Margaret Brown, was injured by  falling  down  a

stairway in a  theatre  in  Toronto.  After  passing  through  a

brightly lighted lobby, she entered the foyer, intending  to  go

to the ladies’ room. This was on the left of  the  entrance  and

was indicated by a short electric sign 7’ high facing her as she

turned. In the foyer, a narrow corridor, the lights were dimmed;

and, proceeding along the wall at her left, she opened what  she

took to be the door to the waiting room. A fire extinguisher  2’

long and 4’ from the floor hung on the wall  next  to  the  left

side of the door; and at the right side was a post or  panel  7”

wide, projecting about 4” out from the wall; the door, 31” wide,

swinging toward the  left,  on  which  the  word  “Private”  was

printed in faint letters, was between three  and  four  feet  in

front of the sign and led to a stairway into the  basement.  The

platform or landing was about 24” deep and the  door  must  have

swung somewhat before the  edge  would  be  brought  into  view.

Immediately inside on the wall at the right and on a level  with

her eyes, was a light which, on her story,  momentarily  blinded

her. The entrance to the ladies’ room was  separated  from  this

door by the post or panel.”

62.   Holding that the theatre owner  had  breached  the  duty  owed  by  a

proprietor of premises to his invitee, the Court held as follows:

“Here, Mrs. Brown paid a consideration for the privileges of the

theatre, including that of making use of the ladies’ room. There

was  a  contractual  relation  between  her  and   the   theatre

management that exercising  prudence  herself  she  might  enjoy

those privileges without risk of danger  so  far  as  reasonable

care could make the premises safe.”

(emphasis supplied

63.   In Dabwali Fire Tragedy Victims Association  v.  Union  of  India  and

Ors., (2001) 1 ILR Punjab & Haryana 368 to which one of us (Thakur  J.)  was

a party, the High Court of Punjab & Haryana held that both  the  school,  as

well as the owners of a premises on which  the  school  function  was  held,

were liable as occupiers for the tragic death of 406 persons, most  of  them

children, caused by a fire which  broke  out  on  the  premises  during  the

function. In dealing with the question whether the owners of  the  premises,

Rajiv  Marriage  Palace,  being  agents  of  the  school   could   be   held

accountable, the High Court held as follows:

“..The School ought to have known that in a  function  which  is

open to general public, a Pandal with a capacity of 500  to  600

persons spread over no more than an area measuring 100’ x 70’, a

gathering of 1200 to 1500 persons could result in a stampede and

expose to harm everyone participating in the function especially

the children who were otherwise  incapable  of  taking  care  of

their  safety.   The  school  ought  to  have  known  that   the

availability of only one exit gate from the Marriage Palace  and

one from the Pandal would prove insufficient in the event  ofany

untoward incident taking place in the course of  function.   The

School ought to have  taken  care  to  restrict  the  number  of

invitees to what could be  reasonably  accommodated  instead  of

allowing all and sundry to attend and in  the  process  increase

the chances of a stampede.  The School ought to have  seen  that

sufficient circulation space in and around the seating area  was

provided so that the people could quickly move out of the  place

in case the need so arose.  Suffice it to say that a  reasonably

prudent School Management organizing an  annual  function  could

and indeed was duty bound to take care and ensure that  no  harm

came to anyone who attended the function whether as  an  invitee

or otherwise, by taking appropriate steps to provide for  safety

measures like fire fighting arrangements, exit points, space for

circulation, crowd control and the like.   And  that  obligation

remained unmitigated regardless whether the  function  was  held

within the School premises or at another  place  chosen  by  the

Management of the School, because the children continued  to  be

under the care of the School and so did the  obligation  of  the

School to prevent any harm coming to  them.   The  principle  of

proximity creating an obligation for the School qua its students

and invitees to the function would make the  School  liable  for

any negligence in either the choice of the venue of the function

or the degree of care that ought to  have been taken to  prevent

any  harm  coming  to  those  who  had  come  to  watch   and/or

participate in the event. Even the test of foreseeability of the

harm must be held to have been satisfied from the point of  view

of an ordinary and reasonably prudent person. That is because  a

reasonably  prudent  person  could  foresee  danger   to   those

attending a function in a place big enough to  accommodate  only

500  to  600  people  but  stretched  beyond  its  capacity   to

accommodate double that number.  It could also be foreseen  that

there was hardly any space for circulation  within  the  Pandal.

In the event of any mishap, a stampede was inevitable  in  which

women and children who were attending in large number  would  be

worst sufferers as indeed they turned out to be. Loose  electric

connections, crude lighting arrangements and  an  electric  load

heavier than what the entire system was geared  to  take  was  a

recipe for a human  tragedy  to  occur.   Absence  of  any  fire

extinguishing arrangements within the Pandal and a  single  exit

from the Pandal hardly enough for the people to run out  in  the

event of fire could have put any prudent person handling such an

event to serious thought about the safety of those attending the

functioning especially the small children who had  been  brought

to the venue in large numbers…”

64.   Referring to the English decisions in Wheat v. E. Lacon &  Co.  (1966)

1 All ER 582, Hartwell v. Grayson Rollo (supra), Thomson v. Cremin (1953)  2

All ER 1185 and H & N Emanuel Ltd. v. Greater London Council &  Anr.  (1971)

2 All ER 835, the High Court went on to hold as follows:

“93. In the instant case while the School had the absolute right

to restrict the  entry  to  the  venue  of  the  function  being

organized by it and everything that would make the  function  go

as per its requirements, the owners had not completely given  up

their control over the premises, and were indeed present at  the

time the incident occurred. The facts and circumstances  brought

on record in the course of the enquiry establish that the School

and the Marriage Palace owners were both occupying the  premises

and were, therefore, under an obligation to take  care  for  the

safety of not only the students, but everyone  who  entered  the

premises on their invitation or with their  permission  specific

or implied. As to the obligation of an occupier to take care qua

his invitees a long line of English decisions have  settled  the

legal position…

xx xx xx

97. In the light of the above, we have no hesitation in  holding

that the One Man Commission of Inquiry was  perfectly  justified

in holding the School and the Marriage Palace liable for the act

of tort arising out of their negligence and duty  to  take  care

about the safety  of  all  those  invited  to  the  function  at

Dabwali. Question No. 2 is answered accordingly.”

65.   In R. v. Gurphal Singh [1999] CrimLR  582,  the  Court  of  Appeal  in

England dealt with a  case  where  a  person  staying  at  a  lodging  house

occupied and managed by the Singh family died in his  sleep  due  to  carbon

monoxide poisoning. The cause of the carbon monoxide  was  the  blocking  of

the chimney in the room of the lodger, as well as in the  neighbouring  room

due to which the smoke from a fire in  the  room  could  not  escape.  While

determining whether the Singh family had breached their duty  of  care,  the

Court held as follows:

“…In substance this is a case where those living in  the  room

in which Mr. Foster died in a lodging  house  managed  by  Singh

family. They were led to believe  that  the  appellant  and  his

father would take care that they were not poisoned by equipments

provided  by  the  family.  The  appellant  was   possessed   of

sufficient information to make him aware of a  danger  of  death

from gas. He may not have had sufficient skill  to  be  able  to

discover how that danger arose but he was responsible for taking

reasonable steps to deal with that danger if need by calling  in

expert help. In those circumstances the judge was right to  hold

that there was a sufficient proximity between the lodgers on the

one side and the father and son on the other  side  to  place  a

duty of care on the latter.”

66.   To sum up, negligence signifies the breach of a duty to  do  something

which a reasonably prudent man would under the circumstances  have  done  or

doing something which when judged from reasonably prudent  standards  should

not have been done. The essence of negligence whether arising  from  an  act

of commission or omission lies in neglect of care towards a person  to  whom

the defendant or the accused as the case may be  owes  a  duty  of  care  to

prevent damage or injury to the property or the person of  the  victim.  The

existence of a duty to care is  thus  the  first  and  most  fundamental  of

ingredients in any  civil  or  criminal  action  brought  on  the  basis  of

negligence, breach of such duty  and  consequences  flowing  from  the  same

being the other two.  It follows that in  any  forensic  exercise  aimed  at

finding  out  whether  there  was   any  negligence  on  the  part  of   the

defendant/accused, the Courts will have to address the above  three  aspects

to find a correct answer to the charge.

(iv)  Difference between  negligence  in  civil  actions  and   in  criminal

cases:

67.   Conceptually the basis for negligence in civil law is  different  from

that in criminal law, only in  the  degree  of  negligence  required  to  be

proved in a criminal action than what  is  required  to  be  proved  by  the

plaintiff in a  civil  action  for  recovery  of  damages.  For  an  act  of

negligence to be culpable in criminal law, the  degree  of  such  negligence

must be higher than what is sufficient to prove a case of  negligence  in  a

civil action. Judicial  pronouncements  have  repeatedly  declared  that  in

order to constitute an offence, negligence must be gross  in  nature.   That

proposition was argued by Mr. Ram Jethmalani at great  length  relying  upon

English decisions apart from those from this Court and the  High  Courts  in

the country.  In fairness to Mr. Salve, counsel appearing for  the  CBI  and

Mr. Tulsi appearing for the Association of Victims,  we  must  mention  that

the legal proposition propounded by Mr. Jethmalani was not disputed  and  in

our  opinion  rightly  so.  That  negligence  can  constitute   an   offence

punishable under Section 304A of the IPC only if the same is  proved  to  be

gross, no matter the word “gross” has not been used  by  the  Parliament  in

that provision is the settled legal position. It is, therefore,  unnecessary

for us to trace the development of law  on  the  subject,  except  making  a

brief reference to a few notable decisions which were  referred  to  at  the

bar.

68.   One of the earliest decisions which examined the question of  criminal

negligence in England was R. v. Bateman  (1925)  94  L.J.K.B.  791  where  a

doctor was prosecuted for negligence resulting in the death of his  patient.

Lord Hewart L.C.J. summed up the test to be applied in  such  cases  in  the

following words:

“A doctor is not criminally  responsible  for  a  patient’s

death unless his negligence or incompetence passed beyond a mere

matter of compensation and showed such disregard  for  life  and

safety as to amount to a crime against the State.”

69.   Nearly two decades later the Privy Council in John Oni Akerele v.  The

King AIR 1943 PC 72 found itself confronted by a  similar  question  arising

out of the alleged medical negligence by a doctor who was treating  patients

for an endemic disease  known  as  “Yaws“  which  attacks  both  adults  and

children  causing  lesions  on  the  body  of  the  patient.  Following  the

treatment, 10 children whom the accused had treated died  allegedly  because

the injection  given  to  the  patients  was  too  strong  resulting  in  an

exceptional reaction among the victims.  The allegation against  the  doctor

was that he had negligently prepared too strong a mixture  and  thereby  was

guilty of manslaughter on account  of  criminal  negligence.   Relying  upon

Lord Hewart’s L.C.J. observations extracted above, the Privy Council held:

“11. Both statements are true and perhaps cannot safely be  made

more definite, but it must be  remembered  that  the  degree  of

negligence required is that it should be gross, and that neither

a jury nor a Court can transform negligence of a  lesser  degree

into gross negligence merely by giving it that appellation.  The

further words spoken by the Lord Chief Justice in the same  case

are, in their Lordships’ opinion, at least as important as those

which have been set out:

It is desirable that, as far as  possible,  the  explanation  of

criminal negligence to a jury should not be a mere  question  of

epithets. It is, in a sense, a question of degree, and it is for

the jury to draw the line, but there is  a  difference  in  kind

between the negligence which gives a right to  compensation  and

the negligence which is a crime.”

70.  What is important is that the Privy  Council  clearly  recognized  the

difficulty besetting any attempt to define culpable or  criminal  negligence

and  held  that  it  was  not  possible  to  make  the  distinction  between

actionable  and  criminal  negligence  intelligible,  except  by  means   of

illustrations drawn from actual judicial opinions.  On  the  facts  of  that

case the Privy Council accepted the view that merely  because  a  number  of

persons had  taken  gravely  ill  after  receiving  an  injection  from  the

accused, a criminal degree of negligence was not proved.

71.   In Jacob Mathew’s case (supra) a three-Judge Bench of this  Court  was

examining a case of criminal medical negligence by a  doctor  under  Section

304A IPC. This Court reviewed the decisions on  the  subject  including  the

decision of the Privy Council in John Oni Akerele’s case (supra) to  sum  up

its conclusions in para 48. For the case at hand conclusions 5  and  6  bear

relevance which may, therefore, be extracted:

“48. We sum up our conclusions as under:

xxx              xxx              xxx

(5) The jurisprudential concept of negligence differs  in  civil

and criminal law. What may be negligence in civil  law  may  not

necessarily be negligence in criminal  law.  For  negligence  to

amount to an offence, the element of mens rea must be  shown  to

exist. For an act to amount to criminal negligence,  the  degree

of negligence should be much higher i.e. gross or of a very high

degree. Negligence which is neither gross nor of a higher degree

may provide a ground for action in civil law but cannot form the

basis for prosecution.

(6) The word “gross” has not been  used  in  Section  304-A

IPC, yet it is  settled  that  in  criminal  law  negligence  or

recklessness, to be so held, must be of such a high degree as to

be “gross”. The expression “rash or negligent act” as  occurring

in Section 304-A IPC has to be read as  qualified  by  the  word

“grossly”.”

72.   The legal position in England remains the same  as  stated  in  R.  v.

Bateman (supra).  That is evident from a much later decision  of  the  House

of Lords in R. v. Adomako (1994) 3 All ER 79 where the  legal  principle  of

negligence in cases  involving  manslaughter  by  criminal  negligence  were

summed up in the following words:

“…In my opinion the law as stated in these two authorities  is

satisfactory as providing a  proper  basis  for  describing  the

crime of involuntary manslaughter. Since the decision in Andrews

v. DPP (1937) 2 All ER 552, was a decision  of  your  Lordships’

House, it  remains  the  most  authoritative  statement  of  the

present law which I have been able  to  find  and  although  its

relationship to R. v. Seymour (1983) 2 ALL ER 1058 is  a  matter

to which I shall have to return, it is a decision which has  not

been departed from.  On this basis in my  opinion  the  ordinary

principles of the law of negligence apply to  ascertain  whether

or not the defendant has been  in  breach  of  a  duty  of  care

towards the victim who has died.  If  such  breach  of  duty  is

established the next question is whether  that  breach  of  duty

caused the death of the victim. If so, the jury must  go  on  to

consider whether that breach of duty should be characterised  as

gross negligence and therefore as a crime. This will  depend  on

the seriousness of the breach of duty committed by the defendant

in all the circumstances in which the defendant was placed  when

it occurred. The jury will have to consider whether  the  extent

to which  the  defendant’s  conduct  departed  from  the  proper

standard of care incumbent upon him, involving as it  must  have

done a risk of death to the patient, was such that it should  be

judged criminal.

It is true that  to  a  certain  extent  this  involves  an

element of circularity, but in this branch of the law I  do  not

believe that is fatal to its being correct as a test of how  far

conduct must depart from accepted standards to be  characterised

as criminal. This is necessarily a question  of  degree  and  an

attempt to specify that degree more closely is I think likely to

achieve only a spurious precision. The essence  of  the  matter,

which is supremely a jury question, is whether, having regard to

the risk of death involved, the conduct of the defendant was  so

bad in all the circumstances as to amount in their judgment to a

criminal act or omission…”

73.   There is no gainsaying that negligence in order to provide a cause  of

action  to  the  affected  party  to  sue  for  damages  is  different  from

negligence which the prosecution would be required  to  prove  in  order  to

establish a charge of ‘involuntary manslaughter’ in  England,  analogous  to

what is punishable under Section 304A, IPC in India.  In the latter case  it

is imperative for the prosecution to  establish  that  the  negligence  with

which the accused is charged is ‘gross’ in nature no  matter  Section  304A,

IPC does not use that expression.  What is ‘gross’  would  depend  upon  the

fact  situation  in  each  case  and  cannot,  therefore,  be  defined  with

certitude. Decided cases alone can illustrate what has  been  considered  to

be gross negligence in a given situation.

74.   We propose to revert to the subject at an appropriate stage and  refer

to some of the decided cases in which this Court had an occasion to  examine

whether the negligence alleged against the  accused  was  gross,  so  as  to

constitute an offence under Section 304A of the IPC.

(V)  Doctrine of Causa Causans:

75.   We may now  advert  to  the  second  and  an  equally,  if  not,  more

important dimension of the offence punishable under Section 304-A IPC,  viz.

that the act of the accused must be the proximate,  immediate  or  efficient

cause of the death of the victim  without  the  intervention  of  any  other

person’s negligence. This aspect of the legal requirement  is  also  settled

by a long line of decisions of Courts in this country. We may at the  outset

refer to a Division Bench decision of the High Court of  Bombay  in  Emperor

v. Omkar Rampratap (1902) 4 Bom LR 679 where Sir Lawrence  Jenkins  speaking

for the Court summed up the legal position in the following words:

“…to impose criminal liability under Section 304-A, Indian Penal

Code, it is necessary that the act should have been  the  direct

result of a rash and negligent act of the accused and  that  act

must be proximate and efficient cause without  the  intervention

of another negligence.  It must have been the causa causans;  it

is not enough that it may have been the causa sine qua non.”

76.   The above statement of law  was  accepted  by  this  Court  in  Kurban

Hussein Mohamedalli Rangawalla v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1965 SC 1616.  We

shall refer to the facts of this case a little later especially because  Mr.

Jethmalani, learned Counsel for the  appellant-Sushil  Ansal,  placed  heavy

reliance upon the view this Court has taken in the fact  situation  of  that

case.

77.   Suffice it to say  that  this  Court  has  in  Kurban  Hussein’s  case

(supra) accepted in unequivocal terms the  correctness  of  the  proposition

that criminal liability under Section 304-A of the IPC shall arise  only  if

the prosecution proves that the death of the victim  was  the  result  of  a

rash or negligent act of the accused and that such  act  was  the  proximate

and  efficient  cause  without  the   intervention   of   another   person’s

negligence. A subsequent decision of this Court in  Suleman  Rahiman  Mulani

v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1968 SC 829 has once  again  approved  the  view

taken in Omkar Rampratap’s case (supra) that the act of the accused must  be

proved to be the causa causans and not simply a causa sine qua non  for  the

death of the victim in a case under Section 304-A of the IPC.

78.   To the same effect are the decisions of this Court in  Rustom  Sherior

Irani v. State of Maharashtra 1969 ACJ 70; Balchandra @  Bapu  and  Anr.  v.

State of Maharashtra AIR 1968 SC 1319; Kishan  Chand  v.  State  of  Haryana

(1970) 3 SCC 904; S.N Hussain v. State of A.P. (1972) 3 SCC 18;  Ambalal  D.

Bhatt v. State of Gujarat (1972) 3 SCC 525 and Jacob Mathew‘s case  (supra).

79.   To sum up: for an offence under Section 304-A to be proved it  is  not

only necessary to establish that the accused  was  either  rash  or  grossly

negligent but also that such rashness or  gross  negligence  was  the  causa

causans that resulted in the death of the victim. As to  what  is  meant  by

causa causans we may  gainfully  refer  to  Black’s  Law  Dictionary  (Fifth

Edition) which defines that expression as under:

“The immediate cause; the last link in the chain of causation.”

80.   The Advance Law Lexicon edited by Justice  Chandrachud,  former  Chief

Justice of India defines Causa Causans as follows:

”the immediate cause as opposed to a  remote  cause;  the  ‘last

link in the chain of causation’; the  real  effective  cause  of

damage”

81.   The expression “proximate cause” is defined  in  the  5th  edition  of

Black’s Law Dictionary as under:

“That which in a natural and continuous sequence unbroken by any

efficient, intervening cause, produces injury and without  which

the result  would  not  have  occurred.   Wisniewski  vs.  Great

Atlantic & Pac. Tea Company 226 Pa. Super  574,  323  A2d,  744,

748.  That  which  is  nearest  in  the  order  of   responsible

causation.  That which stands next in causation to  the  effect,

not necessarily in time or space but  in  causal  relation.  The

proximate cause of an injury is the primary or moving cause,  or

that which in a natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any

efficient intervening cause, produces  the  injury  and  without

which the accident could not have happened, if the injury be one

which might be reasonably anticipated or foreseen as  a  natural

consequence  of  the  wrongful  act.  An  injury  or  damage  is

proximately caused by an act, or a failure to act,  whenever  it

appears from the evidence in the case, that the act or  omission

played a substantial part in bringing about or actually  causing

the injury or damage; and that the injury or damage was either a

direct result or a reasonably probable consequence of the act or

omission.”

(vi)  Whether Ansal brothers were occupiers of Uphaar cinema building:

82.   In cases where negligence is alleged in regard  to  use  of  buildings

and structures permanent or temporary, the duty to  care  is  fixed  on  the

person or persons who were occupiers of such buildings or structures.  Since

the charge in the present case also relates to the use of  a  building,  the

question whether the appellants Sushil and Gopal Ansal, were  the  occupiers

of Uphaar Cinema, so as to cast  a  duty  to  care  upon  them  towards  the

patrons who came to watch the  exhibition  of  cinematographs  needs  to  be

addressed.

83.    Appearing  for  Sushil  Ansal  Mr.  Ram  Jethmalani,  learned  senior

advocate, in his inimitable style and remarkable forensic skill argued  that

his client Sushil Ansal was not the occupier of the Uphaar  Cinema  nor  did

he owe any duty of care towards those who came to watch  the  movie  on  the

fateful day so as to give rise to any civil or  criminal  liability  against

his client for the alleged  breach  of  any  such  duty.  Mr.  Sushil  Kumar

appearing for Gopal Ansal, adopted a similar  line  of  argument  and  urged

that even Gopal Ansal had nothing to do with the cinema  or  the  management

of its affairs as on the date of the unfortunate  fire  incident.   Reliance

in support of that submission was placed both  by  Mr.  Jethmalani  and  Mr.

Sushil Kumar on the fact that the Cinema was owned by  GPTA  Pvt.  Ltd.  and

later by Ansal Theaters & Clubotels Pvt. Ltd. who alone could be said to  be

the occupiers of the Cinema at the relevant  point  of  time.  Reliance  was

also placed upon the fact that Sushil Ansal was  the  Managing  Director  of

the Company only till 21st November, 1983.  He had finally retired from  the

Board on 17th October, 1988, thereby putting an end to his association  with

the Cinema and its affairs. Even Gopal  Ansal  who  took  over  as  Managing

Director of the Company on 21st November, 1983 had retired  from  the  Board

of Directors on 17th October, 1988, whereafter he exercised no control  over

the Cinema or its management to earn him what is  retrospect  is  a  dubious

distinction of being the “occupier of the cinema”.  He had no doubt  resumed

the Directorship of the company for a period  of  six  months  in  December,

1994, but was concerned only with the business of the  Clubs  being  run  by

the company. This implied, according to the learned  counsel,  that  neither

Sushil nor Gopal Ansal was the occupier of the Cinema on  the  date  of  the

occurrence to give rise to any civil or criminal liability against them.

84.   Before we deal with  the  factual  backdrop,  in  which  the  question

whether the Ansal Brothers were occupiers of the Cinema has to be  answered,

we must steer clear of the impression that an occupier must be the owner  of

the premises. While it is true that an owner may in a given  fact  situation

be also the occupier of the premises owned by him, it is not correct to  say

that for being an  occupier  one  must  necessarily  be  the  owner  of  the

premises in  question.   What  is  important  is  whether  the  premises  in

question  was  sufficiently  and  not  exclusively  under  the  control   of

defendant/accused, and for being in such control, ownership of the  premises

is not a condition  precedent.   An  occupier  may  be  in  control  of  the

premises even when he does not own the same whether fully  or  jointly  with

others.  It is also not necessary that the control  must  be  full  and  all

pervasive. It follows that if  there  are  more  than  one  occupiers  of  a

building, and each one neglects the duty  to  care,  the  liability  whether

civil or criminal will fall on all of them.   The  law  on  the  subject  is

settled in England by the decision of the House of  Lords  in  Wheat  v.  E.

Lacon & Co. (supra), where Lord  Denning  applied  the  test  of  sufficient

degree of control and not exclusive or entire control to  determine  whether

the person concerned was an occupier. The following passage is  apposite  in

this regard:

“It was simply a convenient word to denote a person  who  had  a

sufficient degree of control over premises to put  him  under  a

duty of care towards those who came lawfully on to the premises.

In order to be an ‘occupier’ it is not necessary for a person to

have  entire  control  over  the  premises.  He  need  not  have

exclusive occupation. Suffice it that  he  has  some  degree  of

control. He may share the control with others. Two or  more  may

be occupiers. And whenever this happens, each is under a duty to

use care towards persons coming lawfully  on  to  the  premises,

dependent on his degree of control. If each fails in  his  duty,

each is liable to a visitor who is injured in consequence of his

failure but each may have  a  claim  to  contribution  from  the

other.”

85.   To the same effect is the decision in H & N Emanuel  Ltd.  v.  Greater

London  Council  &  Anr.  (supra)  where  the  Court  made   the   following

observations:

“Any person was an occupier for the purposes of fire if he had a

sufficient degree of control over the  premises  and  could  say

with authority to anyone who came there, “Do or do not  light  a

fire,” or “Put out that fire”. If he could, he  was  liable  for

negligence on the part of any person who came there.”

86.   Coming to the facts of the case at hand, merely  because  the  company

was the legal owner of the Cinema premises, did not mean  that  the  Company

and Company alone was the occupier thereof. The question whether  the  Ansal

Brothers (Sushil and Gopal) exercised any control over the  affairs  of  the

Cinema, and its maintenance was a pure  and  simple  question  of  fact,  on

which a great deal of evidence was led at the trial, and appreciated by  the

two Courts below. We have in the preceding part of  this  judgment  referred

to the findings of fact recorded by the Courts below on  that  aspect.  But,

for the sake of completeness, we may refer to those findings in some  detail

at this stage over again.

87.   The trial Court and, so also, the High Court  have  both  concurrently

held that Sushil and Gopal Ansal were, at all material times,  at  the  helm

of the affairs of  the  company  that  owned  Uphaar  cinema.   All  crucial

decisions relating to the cinema including decisions regarding  installation

of DVB transformer on the  premises,  closure  of  the  right  side  exit  &

gangway and rearrangement of the seating plan  in  the  balcony  were  taken

while either one or the other of the two was either a Director  or  Managing

Director of the company.  Both the Courts  have  further  found  that  Ansal

brother’s control over the day-to-day affairs  and  the  staff  employed  to

look after the cinema  management  continued  even  upto  the  date  of  the

incident. In particular the Courts below have  concurrently  held  that  the

decision to install the DVB transformer and to let out various parts of  the

premises for commercial use in violation of the sanctioned plan  were  taken

by Sushil Ansal as Managing Director  of  the   company.   Applications  for

grant of the cinema license and subsequent renewals were found to have  been

made by him as the representative licensee on behalf  of  the  company  even

after his purported retirement from the Board of Directors.  Not only  that,

the Courts below have concurrently held that Sushil Ansal was  exercising  a

high degree of financial control over the affairs of  the  company  and  the

cinema owned by  him.  Gopal  Ansal  was  similarly  exercising  an  equally

extensive  degree  of  financial  control  even  after  his  retirement   as

Director. The Courts below have also found that all  decisions  relating  to

changes in the balcony seating arrangement and  installation  of  additional

seats were taken during Gopal Ansal’s term as Managing Director and  at  his

request.  The Courts have noticed and relied  upon  the  Show  Cause  Notice

dated 28th May, 1982 in  which  Gopal  Ansal,  the  Managing  Director,  was

cautioned  about  the  dangerous  practice  being  followed  by  the  cinema

management of bolting the doors of the cinema hall during the exhibition  of

the films.  An assurance to  the  effect  that  such  a  practice  would  be

discontinued was given by Gopal Ansal as Managing Director of  the  company.

88.   In conclusion the High Court has outlined eight decisions  which  were

directly attributable to the Ansal brothers including decisions relating  to

the day-to-day affairs and commercial use of the  cinema  premises  as  also

the seating arrangement in the balcony and in no  uncertain  terms  rejected

the argument that Ansal brothers had nothing to do with the company and  the

cinema after their retirement from the Board  of  Directors  in  1988.   All

these findings are, in our opinion, supported by  overwhelming  evidence  on

record which satisfactorily proves not only that  Ansal  brothers  continued

to exercise all pervasive control over the affairs of the  cinema  but  also

because the cinema license, at all material times, showed  Sushil  Ansal  as

the representative license of the Uphaar Cinema.   Our  attention  was  also

drawn to an affidavit filed by Sushil Ansal marked as  EX.PW.50/B  in  which

Sushil Ansal unequivocally acknowledged that he  was  the  occupier  of  the

cinema.  The relevant portion of the affidavit reads as under:

“I, Sushil Ansal, s/o Late Shri Charanji  Lal,  R/o  N-148,

Panchshila Park, New Delhi,  Chairman  of  Green  Park  Theatres

Associated (P) Ltd., 115 Ansal Bhawan, 16 Kastuba  Gandhi  Marg,

New Delhi – 110001, am applying for renewal of License  for  the

year 1992-93. I have not  without  permission,  transferred  the

License or the Licensed  place  or  the  Cinematographs  to  any

person during the year 1991-92 to exhibit films in the  Licensed

place.  I am still the occupier of  the  licensed  premises  and

owner of the Cinematograph.”

(emphasis supplied)

89.   The Courts below have, in our view, correctly noticed  the  fact  that

not one out of a total of 5000 shares of  the  company  was  ever  owned  by

anyone outside the Ansal family. The Courts have also placed  reliance  upon

the depositions of Pranav Ansal (PW-109), V.K.  Aggarwal  (PW-113),  Subhash

Verma (PW-114) and Kusum Ansal, wife of Sushil Ansal  (PW-115)  to  conclude

that all these persons who were Directors or had  financial  powers  on  the

date of the incident were completely unaware of the affairs of  the  company

as well as the cinema enterprise, a fact, that goes  a  long  way  to  prove

that the cinema was being managed by Ansal brothers who had a complete  sway

over its affairs.  What is worse is that some of these  witnesses  expressed

their ignorance about whether  they  were  Directors  or  whether  they  had

financial powers within the company or that the company was  still  involved

in cinema business.

90.   The cumulative effect of the above facts and circumstances  proved  by

cogent evidence placed on record by the  prosecution,  in  our  view,  fully

supports the prosecution case that Sushil  and  Gopal  Ansal  were  in  full

control over the affairs of the company which owned the cinema, as  well  as

the cinema itself,  at  all  material  times,  including  the  date  of  the

incident.  We have, therefore, no hesitation in affirming the  finding  that

the Ansal brothers – Sushil and Gopal were  both  occupiers  of  the  cinema

complex as on the date of the incident in which capacity they  owed  a  duty

to care for the safety of the patrons visiting/coming to the premises.

91.   It was contended by Mr. Jethmalani that  the  offence  if  any  having

been committed by  the  company,  officers  of  the  company  could  not  be

vicariously held guilty of criminal negligence.   Reliance,  in  support  of

that submission was placed by Mr. Jethmalani upon the provisions of  Section

141 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and the  decisions  of  the  Court  in

S.M.S. Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v. Neeta Bhalla (2005) 8 SCC 89,  JK  Industries

and others v. Chief Inspector of Factories and Boilers   (1996) 6  SCC  685.

It was urged that in the absence of any provisions in the IPC rendering  the

officers of the company vicariously liable for prosecution for the  offences

committed by the company, there was  no  question  of  the  appellant  Ansal

brothers being held guilty that too for  an  offence  committed  long  after

they had ceased to  hold  any  position  in  the  company.   We  regret  our

inability to accept that submission.  We say so because the appellants  have

not been prosecuted as officers  of  a  company  accused  of  committing  an

offence, nor is it the case of  the  prosecution  that  the  appellants  are

vicariously liable as in the case of those falling under Section 141 of  the

Negotiable Instruments Act.  The prosecution case on the other hand is  that

in their capacity as occupiers the appellant Ansal brothers had  a  duty  to

care for the safety of the patrons which duty they grossly  neglected.   The

entire substratum of the case is, therefore, different from  the  assumption

on which Mr. Jethmalani  has  built  his  argument.   The  assumption  being

misplaced, the argument can be no different.

(vii) Degree and nature  of  care  expected  of  an  occupier  of  a  cinema

building:

92.   What is the degree of care expected from the occupier of a  cinema  is

the next question to which we must advert at this  stage.   Two  fundamental

principles must be noticed at the threshold while answering  that  question.

The first is that the degree and nature of  care  expected  of  an  occupier

depends upon the fact situation in  which  the  duty  to  care  arises.  The

second and equally important principle at common law is that the  degree  of

care in a given fact situation would depend upon whether the person to  whom

the duty is owed is a contractual visitor, invitee, licensee or  trespasser.

Of these the occupier owes the highest  degree  of  care  to  a  contractual

visitor viz. a person who pays consideration to be present on  the  premises

for some purpose; whatever that purpose be.   At  common  law  there  is  an

implied term in the contract between the occupier and the visitor  that  the

occupier’s premises shall be reasonably safe. The occupier’s  duty  must  be

held to have been breached if any injury is caused to a contractual  visitor

by any defect in the premises  apart  from  a  latent  defect.   Winfield  &

Jolowicz on Tort (Sixteenth Edition) explains the duty  of  an  occupier  to

take  care  towards  different  categories  of  visitors  in  the  following

passage:

“At common law  the  duties  of  an  occupier  were  cast  in  a

descending scale to four different kinds of persons and a  brief

account is necessary to gain a full understanding  of  the  Act.

The highest degree of care was owed by the occupier to  one  who

entered in pursuance of a contract with him (for example a guest

in an hotel): in that case there was an  implied  warranty  that

the premises were as safe as reasonable  care  and  skill  could

make them. A lower duty was owed to the “invitee”,  that  is  to

say, a person who (without any contract) entered on business  of

interest both  to  himself  and  the  occupier  (for  example  a

customer coming into a shop to view the wares): he was  entitled

to expect that the occupier should prevent damage  from  unusual

danger, of which he knew or ought to have  known.   Lower  still

was the duty to the “licensee”, a person who  entered  with  the

occupier’s  express  or  implied  permission  but  without   any

community of interest with the  occupier:  the  occupier’s  duty

towards him was to warn him of any concealed danger or  trap  of

which he actually knew. Finally, there was  the  trespasser,  to

whom under the original common law there was owed only a duty to

abstain from deliberate or reckless injury.

93.    One  of  the  earliest  common  law  decisions  regarding  occupier’s

liability to visitors is in Mclenan v.  Segar  (1917)  2  KB  325  where  an

innkeeper was held liable for injury caused to a guest while  escaping  from

a fire in the  inn.  The  fire  was  caused  because  there  was  no  proper

mechanism for conveying the smoke and burning soot from the kitchen  chimney

to the atmosphere. The mechanism for conveying the smoke had been  installed

in 1910 by an architect employed by the landlord  from  whom  the  innkeeper

had taken the premises on lease. However, the fact  that  the  defect  arose

from the  architect’s  negligence  did  not  prevent  liability  from  being

imposed on the innkeeper.  The  relevant  portion  of  the  judgment  is  as

follows:

“Where the occupier of premises agrees for reward that a  person

shall have the right to  enter  and  use  them  for  a  mutually

contemplated purpose, the contract between the  parties  (unless

it provides to the contrary) contains an implied  warranty  that

the premises are as safe for that purpose as reasonable

care and skill on the part of anyone can make them. The rule  is

subject to the limitation that the Defendant is not to  be  held

responsible for defects which could not have been discovered  by

reasonable care or skill on the part  of  any  person  concerned

with the construction, alteration, repair, or maintenance of the

premises: and the head-note to Francis v. Cockrell must to  this

extent be corrected. But subject to this limitation  it  matters

not whether the lack of care or skill be that of  the  Defendant

or his servants, or that of an  independent  contractor  or  his

servants, or whether the negligence takes place before or  after

the occupation by the Defendant of the premises.”

94.   To the common law duty of care is at times added a further  obligation

which too the occupier must discharge in order that his duty to care can  be

said to have been  fully  discharged.  Such  duties  are  often  cast  under

statutes enacted by the legislature or in  Rules  &  Regulations  framed  in

exercise of  powers  delegated  under  such  enactments.   These  additional

safeguards against injury to life and  limb  of  innocent  parties  who  are

working in the premises or who visit such premises, in  large  numbers,  are

in  public  interest  and  imply  that  even  the   ‘State’   in   all   its

manifestations is concerned about the safety of those visiting  such  public

places, be it a cinema hall as in the case at hand or  any  other  place  of

entertainment or a place where people go for any other  purpose  whether  as

contractual visitors or otherwise.  The existence of such a  statutory  duty

especially one that concerns safety of the visitors adds  another  dimension

to the duty to care to which we shall presently advert.  But  before  we  do

so we need to examine whether any such statutory  duty  was  cast  upon  the

occupier of the cinema and if so what was the nature of that duty.

95.   The Cinematograph Act, 1952 inter alia regulates exhibition  of  films

by means of cinematographs.  Section 10 of the Act, provides  that  save  as

otherwise provided under Part III  of  the  Act  no  person  shall  give  an

exhibition by means of a cinematograph elsewhere them in  a  place  licensed

under this part or otherwise than in  compliance  with  any  conditions  and

restrictions imposed by such license.  Section 12 of the Act stipulates  the

restrictions on powers of the licensing Authority and  forbids  grant  of  a

license except where he is satisfied that the  rules  made  under  Part  III

have been substantially complied with and  adequate  precautions  have  been

taken in the place in respect of  which  the  license  is  to  be  given  to

provide for safety of persons attending exhibitions therein.  Section 16  of

the Act empowers the Government to make rules under Part  III  of  the  Act,

which part as noticed above also  makes  safety  of  persons  attending  the

exhibition an important requirement.  Rule 10(1) of the Delhi  Cinematograph

Rules framed in exercise of the said power  explicitly  makes  the  licensee

responsible for the safety of those attending the exhibition of  films.   It

reads:

“10(1) The licensee shall be responsible for compliance with the

provisions of  these  rules  and  with  the  conditions  of  his

license, for the maintenance of the  licensed  premises  at  all

times and in all  respects  in  conformity  with  the  standards

prescribed by these rules and for taking all necessary  measures

before any cinematograph exhibition is commenced to  ensure  the

safety of the public and his employees against  fire  and  other

accidents.

(2) The licensee or some responsible person nominated by him  in

writing for the purpose  shall  be  in  general  charge  of  the

licensed premises and cinematograph during the whole time  where

any exhibition is in progress.”

(emphasis supplied)

96.   The rules make further provisions for  safety  of  the  cinema  goers.

For instance Rules 24 and 37 of the Delhi Cinematograph  Act,  1953  provide

for attendants to carry electric  torches  for  use  in  emergency  and  for

keeping the fire appliances in working order and  incharge  of  some  person

specially appointed for the  purpose.   The  said  two  rules  may  also  be

extracted at this stage:

“24. Attendants and all members of the  staff  employed  in  the

building during an exhibition shall carry electric  torches  for

use in emergency in the event of failure of the lighting.

37.“Before   the   commencement   of   each   performance    the

cinematograph operator  shall  satisfy  himself  that  the  fire

appliances, intended for use within the enclosure are in working

order, and during the performance such appliances  shall  be  in

the charge of some person specially appointed for that  purpose,

who shall see that they are kept constantly available for use.”

97.   The First Schedule to the DCR 1953  compliance  whereof  is  essential

for grant and renewal deals extensively with several  aspects  most  if  not

all of which deal with the safety of the cinema goers. For instance  Para  3

of the schedule deals with external walls, Para  6  of  the  schedule  deals

with the number of persons to be admitted, Para 7 with  seating  within  the

hall, Para 8 with gangways, Para 9 with stairways, Para 10 with exits,  Para

13 with ventilation, Para 15 with Parking, Para 16  with  fire  precautions,

Para 34(1) with illumination of exits, passages,  corridors  and  stairways,

Paras 35 and 36 with emergency lights.

98.   A conspectus of the provisions of the Act and the  rules  referred  to

above shows that the duty to “ensure safety”  of  those  entering  a  cinema

hall for watching the exhibition of a film, is cast  upon  the  occupier  of

the hall.  The  use  of  words  “taking  all  necessary  measures  before  a

cinematograph exhibition is commenced to ensure safety  of  the  public  and

his employees against fair and other accidents” leaves no  manner  of  doubt

that apart from the common law duty to care, the  statutory  provisions  too

cast such an obligation upon the licence/occupier of the cinema hall.

99.   That brings us to the question whether and if so what  is  the  effect

of a statutory obligation to care for  the  safety  of  the  visitors  to  a

cinema hall, where a duty to care otherwise exists  under  the  common  law.

The answer can be best provided by a reference to the  English  decision  in

Lochgelly Iron & Coal Co. Ltd. v. M’Mullan, (1934) AC 1. A reading  of  this

case would suggest that where a duty of care exists under  common  law,  and

this duty is additionally supported and clarified by  statutory  provisions,

a breach of the statutory duty would  be  proof  enough  of  negligence.  It

would not be open to the defendant in such a case to  argue  that  the  harm

was not foreseeable, since “the very object of the  legislation  is  to  put

that particular precaution beyond controversy”.

100.   The import and significance of the  case  is  explained  in  Clerk  &

Lindsell on Torts (Twentieth Edition) as follows:

“In Lochgelly Iron & Coal Co Ltd v. M’Mullan, the House of Lords

came close to equating an action for breach  of  statutory  duty

with an action in negligence. Lord Atkin said that all that  was

necessary to show “is a duty to take care to avoid injuring; and

if the particular care to be taken is prescribed by statute, and

the duty to the injured person to  take  the  care  is  likewise

imposed by statute, and the breach is proved, all the essentials

of negligence are present”. Negligence did  not  depend  on  the

Court agreeing with the legislature that the precaution ought to

have been taken, because the “very object of the legislation  is

to put that particular precaution beyond controversy”.  On  this

approach breach of a statutory duty constitutes  negligence  per

se, but it applies only to  legislation  which  is  designed  to

prevent a particular mischief in respect of which the  defendant

is already under a duty in  common  law.  Failure  to  meet  the

prescribed statutory standard is then  treated  as  unreasonable

conduct amounting to negligence, because a reasonable man  would

not ignore precautions required by statute,  and  the  defendant

cannot  claim  that  the  harm  was  unforeseeable  because  the

legislature has already anticipated it. The  statutory  standard

“crystallises” the question of what constitutes carelessness. On

the  other  hand,  where  legislation   does   not   deal   with

circumstances in which there is an  existing  common  law  duty,

then, unless expressly stated, breach of the statute  would  not

give rise to an action, because the damages may  greatly  exceed

the penalty considered appropriate by the legislature.”

101.  Reverting back to the  degree  and  nature  of  care  expected  of  an

occupier of a cinema hall, we must at the outset say  that  the  nature  and

degree of care is expected to be such as would  ensure  the  safety  of  the

visitors against all foreseeable dangers and harm. That is  the  essence  of

the duty which an occupier owes  to  the  invitees  whether  contractual  or

otherwise. The nature of care that the occupier must, therefore, take  would

depend upon the fact situation in which duty to care arises.  For  instance,

in the case of a hotel which  offers  to  its  clients  the  facility  of  a

swimming pool, the nature of the care that the occupier of the  hotel  would

be expected to take would be different from what is expected of an  occupier

of a cinema hall.  In the former case,  the  occupier  may  be  expected  to

ensure that the pool is safe for use by the guests in  the  hotel,  in  that

the depth is safe for those using the diving board if any, that life  guards

are on duty  when  children  or  other  guests  are  using  the  pool,  that

immediate medical succor  is  provided  to  those  who  may  meet  with  any

accident, and so on.  The nature of duty is in  that  sense  different  from

that of cinema owner/occupier, where all these may  not  form  part  of  his

duty to care.  In the case of a cinema hall  the  nature  of  an  occupier’s

duty to care may, inter alia, require him to  ensure  rapid  dispersal  from

the hall in the event of any fire or other emergency, and for  that  purpose

to provide suitable gangways and keep them  clear  of  any  obstruction,  to

provide proper exits,  to  keep  the  exit  signs  illuminated,  to  provide

emergency lighting, to provide fire fighting systems, alarm systems  and  to

employ and  keep  trained  personnel  on  duty  whenever  an  exhibition  of

cinematograph is in progress.

102.  An occupier of a cinema would be expected  to  take  all  those  steps

which are a part of his duty to care for the  safety  and  security  of  all

those visiting the cinema for watching a cinematograph exhibition.  What  is

important is that the duty to  care  is  not  a  onetime  affair.  It  is  a

continuing  obligation  which  the  occupier  owes  towards  every   invitee

contractual or otherwise every  time  an  exhibition  of  the  cinematograph

takes place.  What is equally important is that not only  under  the  common

law but even under the statutory regimen, the obligation  to  ensure  safety

of the invitees is undeniable, and any neglect of  the  duty  is  actionable

both as a civil and criminal wrong, depending upon  whether  the  negligence

is simple or gross.

103.  In the case  of  gross  negligence  prosecution  and  damages  may  be

claimed simultaneously and not necessarily in the  alternative.  We  may  at

this stage refer to a few pronouncements to  illustrate  that  the  duty  to

care and the nature of care expected of any person accused of committing  an

offence under Section 304A IPC has always been seen in the  fact  situations

in which the  question  arose.  In  Bhalchandra  Waman  Pathe  v.  State  of

Maharashtra 1968 Mah. L.J. 423 (SC) this  Court  was  dealing  with  a  case

where the regulations framed  by  the  Commissioner  of  Police,  under  the

Bombay Police Act, required the driver of car to look ahead and see  whether

there was any pedestrian in the crossing and if there was one to  wait  till

he crossed the carriage way. The accused in that case  had  failed  to  take

care and do that, resulting in the death of a pedestrian  who  was  crossing

the road. The question that fell for consideration was  whether  the  driver

was rash or negligent. This Court held that since the  speed  limit  was  35

miles per hour, and since the accused was driving the car  at  35  miles  an

hour, there was no rashness  on  his  part  in  the  absence  of  any  other

circumstance showing that he was driving at a reckless speed.  Even  so  the

charge of negligence was held proved against the accused as he had  breached

the duty cast upon him to see  whether  there  was  any  pedestrian  to  the

pedestrian crossing.  Law,  observed  this  Court,  enjoined  upon  him  and

ordinary human prudence required him to do so. Failure  of  the  accused  to

exercise that reasonable care and caution rendered him  liable  in  criminal

law to a conviction under Section 304A of the IPC. This Court  approved  the

ratio of the  decisions  in  Idu  Beg  and  Nidamarti  cases  (supra),  that

distinguished ‘rashness’ and ‘negligence’,  and  held  that  while  rashness

implies recklessness or  indifference  to  consequences,  negligence  arises

from neglect of a civic duty of circumspection, “which having regard to  all

the circumstances out of which the charge has arisen, it was the  imperative

duty of the accused person to have adopted.” Rashness, observed this  Court,

was undoubtedly a graver offence.

104.  In Bhalchandra @ Bapu and Anr. v. State of Maharashtra, 1968  (3)  SCR

766, this Court was dealing with a case in which an explosion in  a  factory

manufacturing crackers had caused the death  of  some  of  the  workers  and

injured others. The findings recorded by  the  Courts  below  was  that  the

accused had in their possession unauthorized explosives in contravention  of

the Act and the Rules and had committed several breaches of those Rules  and

the conditions of the license issued to them.  Relying  upon  the  decisions

of this Court in Kurban Hussein’s case (supra) and Suleman Rahiman  Mulani’s

case (supra), it was contended that mere violation of Rules or  terms  of  a

licence  would not make the accused liable for any punitive  action  against

them. The decisions of this Court in Kurban Hussein’s  and  Suleman  Rahiman

Mulani’s cases (supra) were distinguished by this Court and  the  conviction

of the accused under Section 304A IPC upheld in the following words:

“…The facts of the present case  are  somewhat  different  and

distinguishable from those of the above two  cases  as  will  be

clear from a close examination of the material evidence relating

to the substances which were being used in  the  manufacture  of

the fire works etc. in the factory of the appellants…

xx xx xx

…Although there was no direct evidence of the immediate cause of

the explosion but indisputably the explosives the possession  of

which was prohibited under the notifications  issued  under  the

Act were found in the shops or the premises where the appellants

carried on their business and  the  substances  that  have  been

mentioned which were of a highly hazardous and dangerous  nature

were apparently being used in the manufacture of the fire  works

since they were found at the scene of the explosion,  (vide  the

evidence mentioned before and the finding of the trial court and

the Additional Sessions Judge). As stated by  Dindeshchandra  PW

10 these explosives had sensitive compositions and even friction

or percussion could cause explosion. It is further  proved  that

in the factory itself where the explosion took place the persons

who were employed were mostly  women  who  brought  their  small

children with them and young children below the age  of  18  had

been employed in the manufacture of  the  fire  works  etc.  The

factory was situate in close proximity to residential  quarters.

It became therefore all the more incumbent on the appellants  to

have completely avoided the use of highly sensitive compositions

of the nature mentioned above.

The decision which is apposite to the present case  is  the

one recently delivered by this Court on April 3, 1968 in  Rustom

Sherior Irani v. State of Maharashtra. There the  chimney  of  a

bakery had collapsed and 11  persons  were  killed  and  certain

persons were injured. The appellant had submitted  no  plan  for

the alteration of the chimney for the third time and  had  asked

just a mason to remove the iron pipe which had corroded  and  to

bring the height of the chimney to 65 feet. The mason  had  told

him that while the work was being executed it was unnecessary to

completely keep the bakery closed except during the  period  the

repair work was being done. After the chimney fell down a number

of officers visited the spot and inspected the bakery. The Chief

Inspector of Boilers was of the opinion that the  cause  of  the

collapse of the chimney was the explosion which occurred  in  it

because of the  products  of  combustion  and  gases  not  being

permitted to escape freely as a pipe of 6  inches  diameter  had

been put instead of 12 inches diameter.  It  is  unnecessary  to

refer to  the  detailed  discussion  of  the  evidence.  It  was

established that the construction of the new  chimney  had  been

done without the advice of  a  properly  qualified  person.  The

argument raised was on the lines similar to the  one  which  had

been advanced in Kurban Hussein Mohammedali Rangwalla  v.  State

of Maharashtra. It was maintained that no negligence on the part

of the appellant had been established and it was on  account  of

the negligence of the mason that the chimney  had  fallen  down.

This Court was of the view  that  the  proximate  and  efficient

cause of the deaths was  the  negligence  of  the  appellant  in

choosing a pipe of 6 inches diameter and asking a mason (who was

apparently not a qualified person) to carry out the  alterations

and also continuing working atleast one oven  there  during  the

period while the alterations to the chimney were being made.”

105.  This Court referred with approval to Queen Empress v. Bhutan  ILR  XVI

All. 472 and  Kamr-ud-din  v.  King  Emperor  1905  PR  22(Cr)  and  English

decisions in Regina v. David Dant, 169 English Reports (C.C.) 1517 and  Rex.

v. Pittwood (1902) 19 TLR 37 to hold that criminal negligence can  be  found

on varying sets of circumstances, and that the tests  applied  in  the  said

cases including the list of direct or efficient cause was  fully  applicable

to the case at hand. It is noteworthy that in Rex. v. Pittwood (supra),  the

prisoner was charged with manslaughter  on  the  ground  that  he  had  been

negligent in not closing a gate when a train passed which it  was  his  duty

to do with the result that White who was in a hay cart was killed while  the

cart was struck by the train which came when it was crossing the line.   The

Court had in that case, held the prisoner liable as it was his duty to  keep

the gate shut to protect the public against an oncoming train. This  act  of

misfeasance was held to constitute gross negligence in the discharge of  his

duty towards the public crossing  the  road,  amounting  to  an  offence  of

manslaughter.

106.  In S.N. Hussain’s case (supra), this Court was dealing with an  R.T.C.

bus that met with an accident at a manned railway level crossing  which  was

in the charge of a gateman whose duty it was to  close  the  gate  when  the

train was expected to pass by. When the bus reached the level  crossing  the

gate was open. The accused- bus driver finding the  gate  open  crossed  the

meter gauge track when suddenly a goods train dashed against the bus on  the

rear side with the result  that  the  bus  was  thrown  off  course  causing

serious injuries to several passengers,  one  of  whom  was  killed  in  the

accident.  The  appellant’s  defense  was  that  he  was  neither  rash  nor

negligent and the accident was unavoidable for he did  not  realize  that  a

goods train was passing at the time and since the gate was open  he  crossed

the railway crossing absolutely oblivious of  the  fact  that  a  train  was

approaching.

107.  The Trial Court accepted that explanation and acquitted  the  accused.

The High Court reversed the order and  convicted  him.  This  Court  relying

upon the definition of criminal rashness and criminal  negligence  given  by

Straight J. in Empress v. Idu beg (supra) and in Bhalchandra Waman Pathe  v.

State of Maharashtra (supra) held that where a railway  level  crossing  was

unmanned, it may be right to insist that the driver of  the  vehicle  should

stop the vehicle, look both ways to  see  if  a  train  is  approaching  and

thereafter drive the vehicle after satisfying that there was  no  danger  in

crossing the railway track. Where the level  crossing  was  protected  by  a

gateman and the gateman opens out the gate inviting the  vehicles  to  pass,

it will be too much to expect the driver to stop his vehicle  and  look  out

for any approaching train. The Court accordingly acquitted the appellant  of

the offence punishable under Section 304A IPC.

108.  A conspectus of the decisions quoted above  reveals  that  an  offence

under Section 304A IPC may arise under a variety of  circumstances,  ranging

from reckless driving of vehicles to negligent handling of explosives  in  a

factory. In every case, this Court has been mindful to determine the  nature

of care which ought to have been exercised by  the  accused  person  in  the

context of all the facts and circumstances  of  that  case.  Moreover,  this

Court has been careful while applying or distinguishing preceding  case  law

relating to Section 304A to read each case in the context of its own  facts,

without deriving from it any general  propositions  to  be  applied  in  all

cases dealing with the same offence. Therefore, the question of  the  nature

of care which ought to have  been  exercised  by  the  occupiers  of  Uphaar

Cinema, as ordinary prudent businessmen,  must  be  decided  solely  on  the

totality of the facts and circumstances of the present case.

109.  In the case at hand, the  claim  for  compensation  has  already  been

awarded by the High Court and affirmed by this Court, no matter against  the

company as the owner of the  cinema  hall.  Dealing  with  the  question  of

negligence, this Court in Municipal Council of Delhi, Delhi  v.  Association

of Victims for Uphaar Tragedy and Ors. (2011) 14 SCC 481 observed:

“27. At the outset it should be noted that the  causes  for

the calamity have been very exhaustively considered by the  High

Court and it  has  recorded  a  categorical  finding  about  the

negligence and the liability on the part of the licensee and the

DVB. On the examination of the records, we agree with  the  High

Court that such a catastrophic incident would not have  happened

if the parapet wall had not been raised to the  roof  level.  If

the said  wall  had  not  been  raised,  the  fumes  would  have

dispersed in the atmospheric air. Secondly if one of  the  exits

in the balcony had  not  been  blocked  by  construction  of  an

owner’s box and if the right side gangway had not been closed by

fixing seats, the visitors in  the  balcony  could  have  easily

dispersed through the other gangway and exit into the unaffected

staircase. Thirdly if the  cars  had  not  been  parked  in  the

immediate vicinity of the transformer room and  appropriate  pit

had been made for draining of transformer oil, the oil would not

have leaked into the passage nor would the burning  oil  lighted

the cars, as the fire would have been  restricted  only  to  the

transformer room. Even if one of the three causes for which  the

theatre owner was responsible, was absent,  the  calamity  would

not have occurred. The Licensee could not point out any error in

those findings.  Ultimately  therefore  the  contention  of  the

licensee before us was not to deny liability but only to  reduce

the quantum of liability fastened  by  the  High  Court  and  to

increase the share of  the  liability  of  the  three  statutory

authorities.

xxx              xxx              xxx

57.   The licensee argued that the entire  liability  should  be

placed upon the DVB. It was contended that DVB have installed  a

transformer of a capacity  of  1000  KV  without  obtaining  the

statutory sanction/approval and without providing all the safety

measures which it was duty bound to provide under  the  relevant

Electricity  Rules,  and  therefore,   DVB   alone   should   be

responsible for the tragedy. This contention has  no  merit.  In

fact none in the main hall (ground floor of the  theatre)  died.

Those on the second floor also escaped. It is only those in  the

balcony caught in noxious fumes, which died of asphyxiation. The

deaths were on account of the negligence and greed on  the  part

of the licensee in regard to installation of  additional  seats,

in regard to closing of an exit door, parking of cars  in  front

of transformer room by increasing parking  from  15  to  35  and

other acts. We therefore reject the contention that  DVB  should

be made exclusively liable to  pay  the  compensation.  We  have

already held that  the  Licensing  Authority  and  MCD  are  not

liable. Therefore, the liability will be 85% (Licensee) and  15%

(DVB).”

110.  Mr. Jethmalani, however, argued that the  findings  recorded  by  this

Court while dealing with the claim for payment of damages could not be  made

a basis for holding  the  appellant-Ansal  Brothers  guilty  of  an  offence

punishable under Section 304A of the IPC, not only  because  those  findings

were not recorded in  relation  to  the  appellants  but  also  because  the

standard of proof required for award  of  compensation  was  different  from

that  required  to  prove  a  criminal  charge.  There  is  merit  in   that

contention.  The standard of proof required being different, simply  because

damages have been awarded against the owner of the cinema  hall  can  be  no

reason why the occupier should be found guilty of gross negligence  required

to be proved for an offence under Section 304A. The  claim  for  payment  of

compensation was at any rate made and awarded against the company who  owned

the cinema hall. This Court cannot in that view make  use  of  the  findings

recorded in the compensation case nor is it otherwise necessary  for  us  to

do so for the evidence  adduced  at  the  trial  is  sufficient  for  us  to

independently  determine the question of negligence  as  also  the  criminal

liability of the occupier of the cinema arising from the same.

111.  The nature of care in the case of cinema theatres  would  depend  upon

three primary factors that the occupier of the  cinema  must  at  all  times

bear in mind. The  first  is  that  the  cinema  hall  is  an  enclosed  and

necessarily a dark space to which public at large have access on payment  of

a price for the ticket that entitles  him  to  watch  the  exhibition  of  a

cinematograph.  Such theatres, at any  given  point  of  time,  admit  large

crowds of people whose safety is the obligation of the  occupier  till  such

time they leave the precincts  of  the  theatre.   The  duty  to  take  care

regarding the safety of those admitted to watch  an  exhibition  rests  with

the occupier who can and ought to even by the  most  ordinary  standards  of

prudence foresee that in the event of anything  untoward  happening  whether

out of a fire incident or otherwise, those inside the  cinema  premises  can

be safe only if they exit from the same as rapidly as possible.   Any  delay

whether on account of obstruction in or around the exit  points  or  in  the

gangways can be reasonably foreseen by any prudent businessman  running  the

business of exhibition of cinematographs to be extremely  hazardous  and  at

times suicidal, with the potential of claiming human lives whether out of  a

stampede, panic or asphyxiation in  the  event  of  a  fire.   It  does  not

require any extra expertise for a cinema owner or the occupier of  a  cinema

theatre to foresee such consequences and to take remedial steps  to  prevent

the same as a part of his duty to care towards those visiting the theatre.

112.  The second and equally important dimension relevant to the duty of  an

occupier  of  a  cinema  theatre  concerns  the  statutory  provisions  that

regulate  such  duties  and  make  certain  safety  measures  essential.  As

previously discussed, the effect of  such  statutory  provisions  where  the

nature of care is specifically outlined is that an occupier cannot argue  in

defence that any danger arising out of violation  or  non-adherence  to  the

provisions of the  statute  was  not  reasonably  foreseeable  by  him.  The

decision of the House  of  Lords  in  Lochgelly’s  case  (supra)  succinctly

explains “the  effect  of  an  additional  statutory  burden  cast  upon  an

occupier where a common law duty already exists.”

113.  The third dimension that must also be constantly borne in  mind  while

determining whether the occupier had breached his duty to care  towards  the

safety of the patrons is “that degree of care which an occupier is  required

to take is commensurate with the risk created” as held by Lord Macmillan  in

Read v. J. Lyons & Co. Ltd.  [1947]  AC  156  and  an  earlier  decision  in

Glasgow Corp v. Muir (1943) AC 448. The application of that  proposition  is

appropriate in the case at hand where the installation of a DVB  transformer

within the cinema premises had increased the degree of risk  on  account  of

fire hazard which resultantly enhanced the degree of care  expected  of  the

occupiers in maintenance of the safety measures  for  the  safety  of  those

inside the theatre.

114.  Summarising the common law duty as  enhanced  and  reinforced  by  the

provisions of Cinematograph Act, 1952 and  the  DCR,  1953,  the  appellant-

Ansal brothers as occupiers of the cinema were duty bound to take  care  and

such care included the care to:

(i)   To provide a seating arrangement which ensured  easy  access  to

exits to all patrons in the event of an emergency, wherever  they  may

be seated.

(ii)  To provide vertical and horizontal gangways of appropriate width

along all sides of the auditorium/balcony as well as down  the  centre

of the seating accommodation  to  provide  convenient  access  to  the

exits.

(iii) To provide an adequate  number  of  well-marked  exits  suitably

spaced along both sides of the auditorium/balcony and along  the  back

thereof, leading directly into at least two independent  thoroughfares

so as to provide speedy egress to the patrons.

(iv)  To provide at least two stairways of adequate width  for  public

use, providing access to every upper floor in the building.

(v)   To ensure that there was no  obstruction  in  the  gangways  and

other pathways to the exits, as well as the staircases leading to open

space.

(vi)  To provide emergency lighting and well-lit exit signs for use in

the event of a power failure or other  emergency  in  order  to  guide

patrons from out of the dark.

(vii) To put in place a working public address and/or alarm system  to

warn patrons in the event of any danger so that they may exit from the

premises without delay or loss of time.

(viii)      To provide an adequate number of fire extinguishers and/or

other fire-fighting equipment and to keep them readily  available  for

use in an emergency at all times.

(ix)  To appoint an adequate number of torch men and persons in charge

of the fire-fighting equipment to be present throughout  the  duration

of a film exhibition to aid and guide patrons out of  the  theatre  as

and when such a need arises.

(viii) Whether the accused were negligent and if so, whether the negligence

was gross:

115.  The Courts below have concurrently found that  the  occupiers  of  the

cinema  building  had  committed  several  deviations  from  the  sanctioned

building plan apart from breaches of statutory provisions. These  deviations

and breaches may not have directly contributed to the death of  the  victims

in the instant case but the same cannot be said to be wholly irrelevant  for

purposes of determining whether or not the  occupiers  had  neglected  their

duty to care and if they had, whether such  neglect  was  gross  in  nature.

The concurrent findings of the Courts below  in  the  nature  of  deviations

from  the  sanctioned  building  plan  of  the  cinema  and  the   statutory

requirements may be enumerated as under:-

(1)   That the occupiers permitted the installation  of  a  DVB  transformer

within the cinema premises, although the building plan did not  envisage  or

permit  any  such  installation.  The   occupier’s   contention   that   the

installation   of   the   transformer   was    under    coercion    remained

unsubstantiated.

(2)    That  the  rear  parapet  wall  behind  the  transformer   room   was

constructed upto the ceiling height thereby  preventing  smoke  rising  from

the burning transformer oil and the cars parked in  the  parking  area  from

dispersing into the open atmosphere.

(3)   That the stairway  leading  to  the  terrace  was  obstructed  by  the

installation of a full width door  in  the  staircase  landing  as  well  as

construction of a reception counter in the staircase leading to the  terrace

by Sarin Associates  one of the tenants inducted by the owners.

(4)   That the exhaust fans opened into the staircase rather  than  into  an

open space thereby defeating the purpose of their installation.

(5)   That a homeopathic dispensary was constructed above  the  ramp  behind

the transformer room which was found to be and described as  a  fire  hazard

during MCD inspections since 1983.

(6)That the staircase around the lift leading  to  the  basement  was  being

used by M/s Sehgal Carpets by conversion of that area into an office was  an

additional hazard and against the sanctioned plan.

(7)   That the enclosure of the open space adjoining  the  transformer  room

to be used as a ticket counter and the creation of a  glazed  verandah  next

to the Manager’s room were also deviations from the building plan.

(8)         That conversion of the Operator room on the  second  floor  into

an office-cum-bar room too was a deviation.

(9)   That letting out  of  the  top  floor  as  office  space  with  wooden

partitions was also a deviation and was pointed out to be  a  safety  hazard

during fire safety inspections.

(10)  That out of 22 fire  extinguishers  seized  after  the  incident  from

various parts of the building including the  parking  lot  and  balcony,  10

were empty, 4 were not working properly while 1 was leaking  from  the  top.

This meant that only 7 of such extinguishers were in working condition.

(11)  That neither the Projector  Operator  nor  any  other  person  present

during the exhibition of the cinematograph was trained in fire  fighting  as

required in DCR 1953.

116.  The above deviations, it was rightly contended by Mr.  Jethmalani  did

not constitute the causa causans  for  the  death  of  the  victims  in  the

instant case.  Even so two  inferences  are  clearly  available  from  these

deviations namely (i) That the occupiers of the  cinema  building  were  not

sensitive towards the demands of safety of  the  patrons  and  amply  showed

that the safety of the visitors to the theatre was a matter of low  priority

for the occupiers and (ii) That the deviations raised the level of  risk  to

the  safety  of  the  patrons  which  in  turn  required  the  occupiers  to

proportionately raise the level of their vigil and the  degree  of  care  in

regard to the safety of those visiting the cinema.  Instead of removing  the

deviations and the perceived fire hazards and thereby reducing the  risk  of

exposing the patrons to avoidable dangers  to  their  safety  the  occupiers

committed  several  breaches  that  directly  contributed  to  the  loss  of

valuable human lives.  For instance both the Courts have  concurrently  held

the following breaches to have been established, by the evidence adduced  by

the prosecution:

1) That the cinema did not have any functional Public  Address  System

necessary to sound an alarm  in  the  event  of  a  fire  or  other

emergency.   The  PA  system  of  the  cinema  was  found   to   be

dysfunctional at the time of the occurrence hence could not be used

to warn or to sound an alarm to those inside  the  cinema  to  exit

from the hall and the balcony.

2) That the emergency lighting even though  an  essential  requirement

and so also the well-lit exits stipulated under the DCR  1953  were

conspicuous by their absence.  The failure of the  electric  supply

on account of  tripping  of  the  main  supply  lines  consequently

plunged the cinema hall and the balcony area into darkness  leaving

those inside the balcony panic stricken and groping in the dark  to

find exits in which process they got fatally exposed to the  carbon

monoxide laden smoke that had filled the hall.

3) That blocking of the vertical gangway along the rightmost wall  and

the narrowing of the vertical gangway along the right side  of  the

middle exit by installation of additional seats had the  effect  of

depriving the patrons of the facility to use the right side gangway

and the gangway along the middle exit for quick dispersal from  the

balcony

4) That the closure of the right side exit  in  the  balcony  area  by

installation of a private  eight-seater  box  permanently  cut  off

access to the right side staircase and thereby  violated  not  only

the DCR 1953 but also prevented the patrons from  using  that  exit

and the right side stairway for quick dispersal from the balcony.

5) That the introduction of the new exit  in  the  left  wing  of  the

balcony in lieu of the closed right side exit did not make  up  for

the breach of Para  10  (4),  First  Schedule  of  DCR  1953  which

mandates that exits on both sides of the auditorium/balcony.

6) That failure to introduce fourth exit even when the total number of

seats in the balcony had gone above 300 with  the  addition  of  15

more seats  installed  in  1980,  further  compromised  the  safety

requirements statutorily prescribed under the DCR.

7) That bolting of the middle entry/exit doors leading into the  foyer

obstructed the flow of patrons out of the balcony exposing them  to

poisonous gas that spread into the hall for a  longer  period  then

what was safe for the patrons to survive.

8) That the absence of any staff members to open the exit gates and to

generally assist the patrons in quick dispersal  from  the  balcony

resulted in the patrons inhaling poisonous gas and dying because of

asphyxiation.

9) That the bolting of the door leading from the foyer into the  right

side staircase and  outside  which  had  to  be  forced  open  also

prevented the  quick  dispersal  and  led  to  a  large  number  of

causalities.

10) That construction of the refreshment counter near the exit gate  of

the first floor and another near the second  floor  inhibited  free

passage of the patrons.

117.  That the breaches enumerated above have been proved  by  the  evidence

adduced at the trial is concluded by the  concurrent  findings  recorded  by

the two Courts below. There  is,  in  our  opinion,  no  perversity  in  the

conclusions drawn by the Courts below on the aspects  enumerated  above.  In

the light of those conclusions it can be safely said that the occupiers  had

committed a breach of their duty to care and were, therefore, negligent.

118.  The  argument  that  the  incident  in  question  was  not  reasonably

foreseeable must in the light of what is stated above be rejected. So  also,

the argument that since no untoward incident had  occurred  for  many  years

prior to the occurrence that claimed so many lives, the same indicated  that

the occurrence was not reasonable foreseeable deserves to be mentioned  only

to be rejected.  A similar contention had in  fact  been  rejected  by  this

Court even in Kurban Hussein’s case (supra), where this Court said :

“In particular it is urged that this  method  of  work  has

been going on for some years and no fire had broken out and this

shows that though there may have been possible danger  to  human

life from such fire or combustible matter there was no  probable

danger. We are unable to accept this contention. The  fact  that

there was no fire earlier in this room even though  the  process

had been going  on  for  some  years  is  not  a  criterion  for

determining whether the omission was such  as  would  result  in

probable danger to human life.”

119.  To the same effect is the observation made  by  this  Court  in  State

through PS Lodhi Colony, New Delhi v. Sanjeev Nanda (2012) 8 SCC 450,  where

this Court held that just because the accused in that case  had  driven  for

sixteen kilometers without any untoward incident did not by  itself  provide

him a defence, or prove his innocence.

(viii) Whether the accused were negligent and if so, whether the  negligence

was gross:

120.  The question then is whether  the  negligence  of  Ansal  brothers-the

occupiers of the cinema was so gross so as  to  be  culpable  under  Section

304A of the IPC. Our answer to that question  is  in  the  affirmative.  The

reasons are not far to  seek.   In  the  first  place  the  degree  of  care

expected from an occupier  of  a  place  which  is  frequented  everyday  by

hundreds and if not thousands is very high in comparison to any other  place

that is less frequented or more sparingly used for public functions  .   The

higher the number of visitors to a place and the greater  the  frequency  of

such visits, the higher would be the degree of care required to be  observed

for  their  safety.   The  duty  is  continuing  which  starts  with   every

exhibition of cinematograph and continues till the patrons safely exit  from

the cinema complex. That the patrons  are  admitted  to  the  cinema  for  a

price, makes them contractual invitees or visitors  qua  whom  the  duty  to

care is even otherwise higher than others. The need for high degree of  care

for the safety of the visitors to such public places offering  entertainment

is evident from the fact that the Parliament has enacted  the  Cinematograph

Act  and   the   Rules,   which   cast   specific   obligations   upon   the

owners/occupiers/licensees with a view  to  ensuring  the  safety  of  those

frequenting such places. The annual inspections and the requirements  of  No

Objection Certificates to be obtained  from  authorities  concerned  is  yet

another indicator of how important the  law  considers  the  safety  of  the

patrons to be.  Any question as to the nature and the extent of breach  must

therefore be seen in the backdrop of the above duties and  obligations  that

arise both under the common law and the statutory provisions  alike.  Judged

in the above backdrop it is evident that the occupiers in the  present  case

had showed scant regard both for the letter of law as also their duty  under

the common law to care for the safety of their patrons.  The  occupiers  not

only committed deviations from the sanctioned building plan that  heightened

the dangers to the safety of the  visitors  but  continued  to  operate  the

cinema in contemptuous disregard for the requirements of law in the  process

exposing the patrons to a high degree of risk to their lives which  some  of

them eventually lost in the incident  in  question.   Far  from  taking  any

additional care towards safety of the visitors to the cinema  the  occupiers

asked for permission to place additional seats that further compromised  the

safety requirements and raised the  level  of  risks  to  the  patrons.  The

history of litigation  between  the  occupiers  on  the  one  hand  and  the

Government on the other  regarding  the  removal  of  the  additional  seats

permitted during national emergency and their  opposition  to  the  concerns

expressed by the authorities on account of increased fire  hazards  as  also

their insistence that the addition or continuance of  the  seats  would  not

affect the safety requirements of the patrons clearly showed that they  were

more concerned with making a little more money out  of  the  few  additional

seats that were added to the cinema in the balcony rather  than  maintaining

the required standards of safety in discharge of the  common  law  duty  but

also under the provisions of the DCR 1953.

(ix) Further contentions urged in defence and findings thereon:

121.  Appearing for the appellant Sushil Ansal, Mr.  Jethmalani  strenuously

argued that the death of 59 persons in the incident in question  was  caused

by the fire  that  started  from  the  DVB  transformer,  which  was  poorly

maintained and shabbily repaired by the DVB  officials  on  the  morning  of

13th June, 1997 the date of incident.  The causa causans  for  the  loss  of

human lives thus was  the  transformer  that  caught  fire  because  of  the

neglect of the DVB officials who did not even have  a  crimping  machine  to

repair the transformer properly. The absence of an oil soaking  pit  in  the

transformer room was also a reason  for  the  oil  to  spill  out  from  the

transformer room to spread the fire to the parking  area  from  where  smoke

containing lethal carbon monoxide rose, and due to chimney  effect,  entered

the hall to cause asphyxiation to those inside the balcony.  He  urged  that

there was no evidence that any death had  taken  place  inside  the  balcony

which proved that most if not all the patrons sitting  in  the  balcony  had

exited from that area, but died on account of the poisonous  effect  of  the

gas enough to kill human being within minutes of exposure.   Heavy  reliance

was placed by Mr. Jethmalani upon the  decision  of  this  Court  in  Kurban

Hussein’s case (supra) in support of his submission that the  causa  causans

in the case at hand was the fire in the DVB transformer and not the  alleged

deviations  in  the  building  plan  or  the  seating  arrangement  or   the

obstructions in the staircase, that led out of the cinema precincts.

122.  Mr.  Harish  Salve,  appearing  for  the  CBI  and  Mr.  K.T.S.  Tulsi

appearing for the Victims Association contended  that  while  there  was  no

quarrel with the proposition that death must be shown to have occurred as  a

direct, immediate or proximate result of the act of rashness or  negligence,

it was not correct to say that the deaths in this case had occurred  because

of the fire in the transformer.   It  was  also  not  correct  to  draw  any

analogy on facts with any  other  decided  case  including  that  of  Kurban

Hussein (supra).  Failure of the victims to  rapidly  exit  from  the  smoke

filled  atmosphere  in  the  balcony  area  because  of   obstructions   and

deviations proved at the trial was the real, direct and immediate cause  for

the death of the victims in the present case who would have  safely  escaped

the poisonous carbon monoxide  gas  only  if  there  were  proper  gangways,

exits, emergency lights, an alarm system  in  working  condition  and  human

assistance available to those trapped inside the hall.

123.  We have at some length  dealt  with  the  ingredients  of  an  offence

punishable under Section 304A of  the  IPC  in  the  earlier  part  of  this

judgment. One of those ingredients indeed is that the rash or negligent  act

of the accused ought to be the direct, immediate and proximate cause of  the

death.  We have in that regard referred to the decisions of  this  Court  to

which we need not refer again.  The principle of  law  that  death  must  be

shown to be the direct, immediate  and  proximate  result  of  the  rash  or

negligent act is well accepted and not in issue before  us  as  an  abstract

proposition. What is argued and what falls for our determination is  whether

the causa causans in the case at hand was the fire in  the  DVB  transformer

as argued by the defence or the failure of the victims to rapidly exit  from

the balcony area.  Two aspects in this connection need  be  borne  in  mind.

The first is that the victims in the  instant  case  did  not  die  of  burn

injuries.  All of them died because of asphyxiation on account of  prolonged

exposure to poisonous gases  that  filled  the  cinema  hall  including  the

balcony area.  Fire, whatever may have been its  source,  whether  from  the

DVB transformer or otherwise, was the causa sine qua non  for  without  fire

there would be no smoke possible and but  for  smoke  in  the  balcony  area

there would have been no casualities.  That is not, however, the same  thing

as saying that it was the fire or the resultant smoke  that  was  the  causa

causans. It was the inability of the  victims  to  move  out  of  the  smoke

filled area that was the direct cause of their death.   Placed  in  a  smoke

filled atmosphere any one would distinctively try to escape from it to  save

himself.  If such escape were to be delayed or prevented the  causa  causans

for death is not the smoke but  the  factors  that  prevent  or  delay  such

escape.  Let us assume for  instance  that  even  when  there  are  adequate

number of exits, gangways and all other safety measures  in  place  but  the

exits are locked preventing people from escaping. The cause of  death  would

in such case be the act of preventing people from  exiting  from  the  smoke

filled hall, which may depending  upon  whether  the  act  was  deliberately

intended to cause death or unintended due to negligence, amount to  culpable

homicide amounting to murder or an act of gross negligence punishable  under

Section 304A.  Similarly take a case where instead of  four  exits  required

under the relevant Rules, the owner of a  cinema  provides  only  one  exit,

which prevents the patrons  from  exiting  rapidly  from  the  smoke  filled

atmosphere, the causa causans would be the negligent act of  providing  only

one exit instead of four required for the purpose.

124.  It would in such circumstances make no  difference  whether  the  fire

had started from a source within the cinema complex or outside,  or  whether

the occupiers of the cinema were responsible for the fire or  someone  else.

The important question to ask is what the immediate cause of the death  was.

If failure to exit was the immediate cause of death  nothing  further  need

be considered for that would constitute the  causa  causans.  That  is  what

happened in the case at hand. Smoke entered the cinema hall and the  balcony

but escape was prevented or at  least  delayed  because  of  breach  of  the

common law and statutory duty to care.

125.  The second aspect is that while the  rash  or  negligent  act  of  the

accused must be the causa causans for the death, the  question  whether  and

if so what was the causa causans in a given  case,  would  depend  upon  the

fact situation in which the occurrence has  taken  place  and  the  question

arises. This Court has viewed the causa causans in  each  decided  case,  in

the facts and circumstances of that case.  If Hatim’s failure  to  stir  the

hot wet paint while Rosin was being poured into it  was  held  to  be  causa

causans, in Kurban Hussein’s case (supra), the failure of  the  motorist  to

look ahead and see a pedestrian crossing the road  even  when  the  motorist

was driving within the speed limit prescribed  was  held  to  be  the  causa

causans for the death in Bhalchandra Waman Pathe  v.  State  of  Maharashtra

(supra).  In Bhalchandra @ Bapu and Anr. v.  State  of  Maharashtra  (supra)

where an explosion in a factory manufacturing crackers claimed  lives,  this

Court found that use of  explosives  with  sensitive  compositions  was  the

immediate cause of the explosion that killed those working in  the  factory.

In Rustom Sherior Irani’s case (supra), this Court found the new chimney  of

the Bakery was being erected without the  advice  of  a  properly  qualified

person and that the factory owner was responsible for  neglect  that  caused

the explosion and not the mason employed by him for  erecting  the  chimney.

The decision in Kurban Hussein’s  case (supra) was cited  but  distinguished

on facts holding that the choice of the low diameter  pipe  and  engaging  a

mere mason not properly qualified for doing the job were the  cause  of  the

accident resulting in causalities.

126. It is in that view, not correct to say that the causa  causans  in  the

present case ought to be determined by matching the  colours  of  this  case

with those of Kurban Hussein’s case (supra).  The ratio of  that  case  lies

not in the peculiar facts in which the question arose but on  the  statement

of law which was borrowed from the  judgment  of  Sir  Lawrence  Jenkins  in

Emperor v. Omkar Rampratap (supra).  The  principle  of  law  enunciated  in

that case is not under challenge and  indeed  was  fairly  conceded  by  Mr.

Salve and Mr. Tulsi. What they argued was that when  applied  to  the  facts

proved in the present case, the causa  causans  was  not  the  fire  in  the

transformer but the breaches committed by the occupiers of the cinema  which

prevented or at  least  delayed  rapid  dispersal  of  the  patrons  thereby

fatally affecting them because of carbon monoxide laden  gas  in  the  smoke

filling the atmosphere.  The causa causans indeed was  the  closure  of  the

exit on the right side, the closure of the right side gangway,  the  failure

to provide the required number of exits, failure to provide emergency  alarm

system and even emergency lights or to keep the exit signs  illuminated  and

to provide help  to  the  victims  when  they  needed  the  same  most,  all

attributable to Ansal brothers,  the  occupiers  of  the  cinema.  We  have,

therefore, no hesitation in rejecting the argument of Mr. Jethmalani,  which

he presented with commendable clarity, persuasive skill and tenacity at  his

command.

127.  Mr. Jethamalani next argued that since the licensing authority had  on

the  basis  of  the  no  objection  certificates  issued  by  the  concerned

authorities granted and from time to time renewed the  Cinema  licence,  the

appellant-Ansal brothers were protected under Section  79  of  the  IPC  for

they in good faith believed themselves to be justified in law in  exhibiting

films with the seating and other  arrangements  sanctioned  under  the  said

licence.   Reliance  in  support  of  that  submission  was  placed  by  Mr.

Jethmalani, upon the decision of this Court in Raj Kapoor v.  Laxman  (1980)

2 SCC 175.

128.  Mr. Tulsi on the contrary argued that reliance upon Section 79 of  the

IPC and the decision of this Court in Raj Kapoor’s case  (supra)  misplaced.

He urged that immunity from penal action under the provisions of Section  79

of the IPC was founded on good faith which was totally absent  in  the  case

at hand  where  the  occupiers  of  the  cinema  and  even  those  who  were

instrumental in the grant and renewal of the licence and no objections  were

accused and even convicted by the Courts below.  There  was,  therefore,  no

question of the appellants taking  shelter  under  the  licence,  the  terms

whereof were in any case breached by them to the  misfortune  of  those  who

lost their lives in the incident.

129.  Section 79 of the IPC may, at this stage, be extracted:

1 “Section 79. Act done by  a  person  justified,  or  by  mistake  of  fact

believing himself justified, by law  –  Nothing  is  an  offence

which is done by any person who is justified by law, or  who  by

reason of a mistake of fact and not by reason of  a  mistake  of

law in good faith, believes himself to be justified by  law,  in

doing it.”

130.  A reading of the above shows that nothing would constitute an  offence

under the IPC if the act done is:

i) Justified in law,

ii) The act is done by a person who by reason  of  a  mistake  of

fact in good faith believes himself to be justified by law in

doing it.

131.  In the case at hand the defence relies upon  the  latter  of  the  two

situations, in which the benefit of penal immunity  will  flow  if  (a)  the

person doing the act is acting under a mistake of fact and  (b)  the  person

doing the act in good faith believes himself  to  be  justified  by  law  in

doing it.  The expression ‘good faith’ is defined in Section 52 of  the  IPC

as under:

“52. “Good faith”.– Nothing is said to be done  or  believed  in

“good faith” which is done  or  believed  without  due  care  and

attention.”

132.  In order that Ansal brothers, occupiers of the cinema could claim  the

benefit of Section 79, they were required to prove  that  the  belief  which

they harboured about their act being justified in law  was  in  good  faith.

The use of expression  ‘good  faith’  necessarily  brings  in  the  question

whether the person concerned had acted with due care and caution.   If  they

had not, part (b) of Section 79 would have no application to the case.

133.  The duty to care for the safety of the patrons, we have  explained  in

the earlier part, was cast upon the Ansal brothers occupiers of  the  cinema

both in common law as also in terms of statutory provisions on the  subject.

We have  also  held  that  the  evidence  adduced  at  the  trial  and  the

concurrent findings recorded by the  Courts  below,  have,  established  the

breach of that duty in  several  respects.   For  instance  absence  of  any

Public Address System to warn those inside the cinema in the  event  of  any

emergency was in the facts and circumstances of the case a part of the  duty

to care which was breached by the occupiers.  This  duty  was  a  continuing

obligation and had to be strictly discharged in respect of each cinema  show

conducted in the theatre. The grant of a  licence  or  its  renewal  by  the

licensing authority did not in any manner  relieve  the  occupiers  of  that

obligation which was implicit even in the grant and  the  renewals  thereof.

Similarly, the requirement that the cinema must have emergency lights,  fire

extinguishers and that the occupiers must provide help  to  the  patrons  in

the event of any emergency ensuring rapid dispersal from the  enclosed  area

were obligations that too were implicit in the  issue  and  renewal  of  the

cinematograph  licence.  Breach  of  all  these  obligations  could  not  be

justified on the ground that a licence was granted or renewed in  favour  of

the occupiers, licensee and no matter the duty to  care  towards  safety  of

the patrons was neglected by the theatre owners or  occupiers.  Failures  in

the event of a mishap like the one at hand on  account  of  failure  of  the

occupiers to discharge their legal obligations to take care for  the  safety

of the patrons cannot be held to be immune from prosecution  simply  because

a licence to exhibit the films had been granted  or  renewed  from  time  to

time.

134.  The  argument  that  the  seating  arrangement  in  the  balcony,  the

placement of the gangways, the number and  the  positioning  of  the  exits,

were matters which were examined and approved by  the  concerned  authority,

thereby entitling the occupiers to a bona fide and good  faith  belief  that

they were on the right side of law,  no  doubt  looks  attractive  on  first

blush but does not stand closer scrutiny.  The essence of Section  79  is  a

belief entertained in good faith about the legitimacy of what is being  done

by the person concerned.  Absence of good faith is enough  to  deny  to  him

the benefit that he  claims.  Good  faith  has  in  turn  to  be  proved  by

reference to the attendant circumstances.  That is because good faith  is  a

state of mind which can be inferred only from the circumstances  surrounding

the act in question. The test of ordinary prudence applied  to  such  proved

attendant circumstances can help the  Court  determine  whether  an  act  or

omission was in good faith or otherwise. Having said that, we  would  simply

recall our findings recorded earlier that  the  fundamental  obligation  and

duty to care at all times rested with the occupiers of the  cinema  and  the

licensee thereof.  In the discharge of that  duty  the  occupiers  were  not

entitled to argue that so long as there was a license in their favour,  they

would not be accountable for the loss of life or limb  of  anyone  qua  whom

the occupiers owed that duty. The  duty  to  care  for  the  safety  of  the

patrons, even independent of the  statutory  additions  made  to  the  same,

required the occupiers to take all such steps and measures,  as  would  have

ensured quick dispersal from the cinema building of all the  patrons  inside

the premises in the event of an emergency. The statutory requirements  were,

in that sense, only additional safeguards which  in  no  way  mitigated  the

common law duty to care, the degree of such care or the manner in which  the

same was to be discharged.

135.  That apart, a seating plan, which  was  in  breach  of  the  statutory

provisions and compromised the safety requirements prescribed under the  DCR

1953, could hardly support a belief in good faith that exhibition  of  films

with such a plan was legally justified.  That  is  so  especially  when  the

repeal of notification dated  30th  September,  1976  by  which  Uphaar  was

permitted 100 more seats was  followed  by  a  demand  for  removal  of  the

additional seats.  Instead of doing so the  occupiers/owners  assailed  that

demand in Writ Petition No.1010 of 1979 before the High Court  of  Delhi  in

which the High Court directed the authorities to have a fresh look from  the

stand  point  of  substantial  compliance   of   the   provisions   of   the

Cinematograph Act. The High Court observed:

“11. Proposition No. 3: It has been  already  made  clear  above

that the relaxation was granted  after  considering  the  public

health and the fire hazard aspects. It is also  clear  that  the

very fact that the relaxation could not be granted after bearing

these main considerations in mind would show that there was some

rule for the extension of the  sitting  accommodation  in  these

theatres within the Rules, though the provision of some  of  the

additional seats may perhaps have been to some  extent  contrary

to some of the Rules. It is not necessary for us to speculate on

this question. It is enough  to  say  that  the  result  of  the

cancellation of the relaxation is simply the withdrawal  of  the

relaxation.  It  does  not  automatically  mean  that  all   the

additional seats which were installed  in  the  cinema  theatres

were contrary to the Rules and must,  therefore,  be  dismantled

without any consideration as to how many of these seats were  in

consonance with the Rules and how many of them were contrary  to

the Rules.

12. Our finding on proposition No. 3  is,  therefore,  that  the

Administration will apply their mind  to  the  additional  seats

with a view to determine which of them  have  contravened  which

rules and to what extent.  They  will  bear  in  mind  that  the

compliance with the Rules is to be substantial and not rigid and

inflexible.”

136.  If while carrying out the above directive, the  authorities  concerned

turned a blind eye to the fundamental requirement of the Rules  by  ignoring

the closure of the right side exit and gangway prescribed  as  an  essential

requirement under DCR 1953, they acted in breach of the  rules  and  in  the

process endangered the safety of the patrons. We  shall  presently  turn  to

the question whether the repeal  of  the  notification  had  the  effect  of

obliging the occupier/licensee  of  the  cinema  to  remove  the  seats  and

restore the gangways and exits as  originally  sanctioned.   But  we  cannot

ignore the fact that the occupiers/licensee of the cinema, had  opposed  the

removal of the additional seats  even  when  the  respondents  in  the  writ

petition had expressed concerns about the  safety  of  the  patrons  if  the

additional seats were not removed which removal it is evident would have  by

itself resulted in the restoration of the right side gangway.  So  also  the

authorities ought to have insisted on the  restoration  of  the  right  side

exit by removal of the eight-seater box which was allowed in the year  1978,

ostensibly because with the right side gangway getting closed by  additional

seats occupying that space the authorities  considered  the  continuance  of

the right side exit to be of no practical use.  Withdrawal of relaxation  in

the year 1979 ought to have resulted in the reversal of not only the  fixing

of additional seats but all  subsequent  decisions  that  proceeded  on  the

basis thereof. It is difficult to appreciate how even applying the  test  of

substantial compliance the authorities could  consider  the  theatre  to  be

compliant with the DCR 1953 especially in so far as the same related  to  an

important aspect like gangways and exits so very vital for speedy  dispersal

from the cinema hall.  To add further confusion to the  already  compromised

safety situation, the occupiers asked for addition of 15 more seats  in  the

year 1980, which were also allowed,  taking  the  number  of  seats  in  the

balcony to 302, thereby, raising the requirement of exits from  3  to  4  in

terms of para 10(2) of the First Schedule to  DCR  1953.   This  requirement

was not relaxable under proviso to  Rule  3(3)  of  DCR  1953  and  yet  the

authorities gave a go by to the same in the process, permitting yet  another

breach that had the potential and did actually prove to be a  safety  hazard

for those inside the theatre  on  the  fateful  day.  It  is  in  the  above

backdrop difficult to accept the submission of the appellant occupiers  that

they acted in good faith and are, therefore, protected  against  prosecution

under Section 79 of the IPC.

137.  There is yet another angle from which  the  matter  can  be  examined.

Proviso to Section 5A of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 protects the  applicant

seeking issue of a certificate, the distributor and the  exhibitor  as  also

any other person to whom the rights in the  film  may  have  passed  against

punishment under any law relating to obscenity  in  respect  of  any  matter

contained in the film  for  which  a  certificate  has  been  granted  under

clauses  (a)  or  (b)  of  sub-section  (1)  to  Section  5A.    It   reads:

“Provided  that  the  applicant   for   the   certificate,   any

distributor or exhibitor or any other person to whom the  rights

in the film have passed shall not be liable for punishment under

any law relating to obscenity in respect of any matter contained

in the film for which certificate has been granted under  clause

(a) or clause (b)”

138.   The above was added by Act 49 of 1981  with  effect  from  1st  June,

1983. The  decision  in  Raj  Kapoor’s  case  (supra)  relied  upon  by  Mr.

Jethmalani was earlier in point of time and is distinguishable  because  the

question there related to the effect of a certificate issued  under  Section

5A vis-à-vis the prosecution of the producer,  director  or  the  holder  of

certificate for obscenity punishable under Section 292 of  the  IPC  or  any

other law for that matter.  The  addition  of  proviso  to  Section  5A  (1)

(supra) in any case sets the controversy at rest and grants immunity to  the

person exhibiting a film to the public in accordance  with  the  certificate

issued by the board.  No such protection against  prosecution  is,  however,

available to the holder of a cinema licence against prosecution for  a  rash

or negligent act resulting in the death of anyone visiting  the  cinema  and

punishable under Section 304A of  the  IPC.  In  the  absence  of  any  such

protection against prosecution  for  rash  or  negligent  act  resulting  in

death,  unlike  the  protection  that  the  statute  itself  grants  against

prosecution for obscenity, is a circumstance that strongly suggests that  no

such protection was intended to be given to a  licence  holder  against  any

such  prosecution.   The  argument  that  absence  of  any  such  protection

notwithstanding the occupiers/owners of  the  cinema  may  be  protected  in

terms of Section 79 of the IPC is obviously founded on  the  plea  that  the

appellants were under a “mistake of fact” when they in good  faith  believed

themselves to be justified in law in exhibiting films  in  the  theatre,  by

reason of a license issued under the Act. The plea that the appellants  were

under a ‘mistake of fact’, however, remains  unsubstantiated.   The  concept

of mistake of fact has been explained by Russel on Crime  in  the  following

words:

“When a person is ignorant of the existence of  relevant  facts,

or mistaken as to them, his conduct may produce harmful  results

which he neither intended nor foresaw.

xxx                  xxx              xxx

Mistake can be admitted as a defence provided (1) that the state

of things believed to exist would, if true, have  justified  the

act done, and (2) the mistake must be reasonable, and  (3)  that

the mistake relates to fact and not to law.”

139.  Ratanlal and Dhirajlal in their book “Law of Crimes” (23rd Edn.)  Page

199 similarly explains the term “mistake” in the following words:

“’Mistake’ is not mere forgetfulness. It is a slip ‘made, not by

design, but by mischance’. Mistake,  as  the  term  is  used  in

jurisprudence, is an erroneous mental condition,  conception  or

conviction   induced   by    ignorance,    misapprehension    or

misunderstanding of the truth, and  resulting  in  some  act  or

omission done or suffered erroneously by  one  or  both  of  the

parties to a transaction, but without  its  erroneous  character

being intended or known at that time.

It may be laid down as  a  general  rule  that  an  alleged

offender is deemed to have acted  under  that  state  of  things

which he in good faith and on  reasonable  grounds  believed  to

exist when he did the act alleged to be an offence.”

140.  In the case at hand, the appellants-occupiers of the cinema, have  not

been in a position to identify  the  facts  qua  which  they  were  under  a

mistake nor is it clear as to how  any  such  mistake  of  fact  would  have

justified their act in law, leave alone satisfy  the  third  requirement  of

the mistake of fact being reasonable in nature.  The  three  tests  referred

to by Russel in the passage extracted above are  not,  therefore,  satisfied

in the case at hand to entitle the appellant occupiers  to  the  benefit  of

Section 79 of the IPC.

141.  Mr. Jethmalani next contended  that  the  withdrawal  of  notification

dated  30th  September,  1976  did  not  have  the  effect  of  creating  an

obligation for the occupiers of the cinema to remove  the  additional  seats

that had been permitted under the said notification.   In  support  of  that

submission, he placed reliance upon Section 6 of the  General  Clauses  Act,

1897 and two decisions of this Court which  according  to  him  support  the

proposition that the principles underlying Section 6 are attracted  even  to

notifications no matter Section 6 does not in terms apply.  Elaborating  his

submission Mr. Jethmalani contended that the repeal  of  an  enactment  does

not affect the previous operation of any such  enactment  or  anything  duly

done  or  suffered  thereunder.  On  the  same   principle   withdrawal   of

notification  dated  30th  September,  1976  could  not,  according  to  Mr.

Jethmalani, affect the  previous  operation  of  the  said  notification  or

anything duly done or suffered thereunder.  This, contended Mr.  Jethmalani,

implied that  additional  seats  permitted  under  notification  dated  30th

September, 1976 could continue in the theatre, no  matter  the  notification

under which they were permitted was withdrawn.

142.  We regret our inability to accept that line of reasoning.  We  say  so

for reasons more than one. In the first  place  Section  6  of  the  General

Clauses Act does not, in our opinion, have any application to repeal of  any

rule, notification or order.  The provision makes no reference to repeal  of

a rule, notification or order.  It reads:

“6. Effect of repeal.- Where this Act, or any 1[ Central Act] or

Regulation made after the commencement of this Act, repeals  any

enactment hitherto made or hereafter to be made, then, unless  a

different intention appears, the repeal shall not-

(a)    revive anything not in force or existing at the  time  at

which the repeal takes effect; or

(b)   affect the previous operation of any enactment so repealed

or anything duly done or suffered thereunder; or

(c)   affect  any  right,  privilege,  obligation  or  liability

acquired,  accrued  or  incurred  under  any  enactment  so

repealed; or

(d)   affect any penalty, forfeiture or punishment  incurred  in

respect of any offence committed against any  enactment  so

repealed; or

(e)   affect any investigation, legal proceeding  or  remedy  in

respect  of  any   such   right,   privilege,   obligation,

liability, penalty, forfeiture or punishment as aforesaid;

and any such investigation, legal proceeding or  remedy  may  be

instituted,  continued  or  enforced,  and  any  such   penalty,

forfeiture or punishment may be imposed as if the repealing  Act

or Regulation had not been passed.”

143.  It is manifest from a reading of the above that the provision  applies

only to repeal by (i) the General Clauses Act or (ii) by a  Central  Act  or

(iii) by Regulation of any enactment hither to make  or  hereinafter  to  be

made.  The expressions “Central Act” and “Regulation” appearing  in  Section

6 have been defined in Sections 3(7) and 3(50) of the General  Clauses  Act,

1897 respectively as under:

“3.  Definitions. – In this Act, and in  all  Central  Acts  and

Regulations made after the  commencement  of  this  Act,  unless

there is anything repugnant in the subject or contexts, –

xxx              xxx              xxx

(7)  “Central Act” shall means an Act of Parliament,  and  shall

include –

(a) an  Act  of  the  Dominion  Legislature  or  of  the  Indain

Legislature passed before the commencement of the  Constitution,

and

(b) an Act made before such commencement by the Governor General

in council or the Governor  General,  acting  in  a  legislative

capacity.

xxx              xxx              xxx

(50)   “Regulation”  shall  mean  a  Regulation  made  by  the

President [under article  240  of  the  Constitution  and  shall

include a Regulation made by the  President  under  article  243

thereof and] a Regulation made by the Central  Government  under

the Government of India At, 1870, or  the  Government  of  India

Act, 1915, or the Government of India Act, 1935.”

.

144.  There is in the light of the above no gainsaying that Section  6  does

not have any application to, for instance,  a  rule,  a  notification  or  a

circular whether statutory or otherwise.  It is confined to  repeal  of  any

enactment already in existence or made after the enactment  of  the  General

Clauses Act, 1897 by the General Clauses Act, 1952,  or  a  Central  Act  or

Regulation within the meaning of those terms as  defined  in  Sections  3(7)

and 3(50).

145.  Secondly, because the  decisions  in  State  of  Orissa  and  Ors.  v.

Titaghur Paper Mills Co. Ltd. and Anr. (1985) Supp  SCC  280  and  Union  of

India v. Glaxo India Ltd. and Anr. (2011)  6  SCC  668  do  not  extend  the

application of Section 6 to statutory notifications  as  was  sought  to  be

argued by Mr. Jethmalani.  In Titaghur Paper Mills Co. Ltd.’s case  (supra),

this Court was dealing with the supersession of notifications  issued  under

the Orissa Sales Tax Act on the tax liability  accrued  under  the  repealed

notification.  Although this Court  held  that  a  tax  liability  that  was

already incurred under the repealed notifications  would  remain  unaffected

by the repeal of the notification the decision does not go to the extent  of

holding that  Section  6  of  the  General  Clauses  Act  or  the  principle

underlying the said provisions  would  be  attracted  to  such  repeal.  The

reasoning for the conclusion of this Court, it appears, is  based  on  first

principles more than Section 6 or its relevance to the  question  of  repeal

of a notification. This is evident from the following passage from the  said

decision:

“66…By repealing and replacing  the  previous  notifications  by

other  notifications,  the  result  was  not  to  wipe  out  any

liability accrued under  the  previous  notifications.  If  this

contention of the Respondents were to be  accepted,  the  result

would be startling. It would mean,  for  example,  that  when  a

notification has been issued under Section  5(1)  prescribing  a

rate of tax,  and  that  notification  is  later  superseded  by

another notification further enhancing the rate of tax, all  tax

liability under the earlier notification is wiped out and no tax

can be collected by the  State  Government  in  respect  of  any

transactions  effected  during  the  period  when  the   earlier

notification was in force.”

146.  In Glaxo India Ltd.‘s case (supra), all that this Court  declared  was

that the effect of a superseding notification would have  to  be  determined

on a proper construction of the notification itself and not  by  any  single

principle or legal consideration.  The decision mentioned Section 6  of  the

General Clauses Act only to state that it would not apply to  notifications.

This is evident from the following passage from the said decision:

“39…The view of this Court in some of the decisions is that  the

expression “supersession” has to be  understood  to  amount  ‘to

repeal’ and when notification is  repealed,  the  provisions  of

Section 6 of  the  General  Clauses  Act  would  not  apply   to

notifications.  The  question  whether   statutory   obligations

subsist in respect of a period prior to repeal of a provision of

a Statute or any subordinate legislation promulgated  thereunder

has to be ascertained on legal considerations  apposite  to  the

particular  context.  The   matter   is   essentially   one   of

construction. Such problems do not admit of  being  answered  on

the basis of any single principle or legal consideration.”

(emphasis supplied)

147.  Thirdly, because the effect of withdrawal of the notification  in  the

instant case may have to be seen and  determined  on  first  principles.  We

find it difficult to appreciate how the power to  withdraw  a  notification,

the existence whereof was  not  disputed  by  Mr.  Jethmalani  would  remain

meaningful and could be effectively exercised if the withdrawal  of  such  a

notification was to leave the benefit  under  the  notification  flowing  in

perpetuity. The notification in question permitted additional  seats  to  be

fixed in relaxation of the rules and, if the argument of Mr. Jethmalani  was

to  be  accepted,  such  relaxation  and  fixation  of  seats  would  become

irreversible even when the Government could legitimately exercise the  power

to recall such a relaxation.  This would be anomalous  and  would  have  the

effect of emasculating the power of  recall  itself.   The  power  would  be

meaningful and so also its exercise, only if the same  could  undo  whatever

had already been done under it prospectively. Such an  interpretation  would

not only recognize the power of withdrawal but  also  protect  the  previous

operation of the repealed notification no matter limited to the extent  that

the occupiers had benefitted by fixation of such  seats  and  collection  of

the price of the tickets sold upto the date of withdrawal.

148.  Last but  not  the  least  is  the  fact  that  the  question  whether

withdrawal of notification dated 30th September, 1976 would have the  effect

of obliging the occupiers to remove the additional seats could and ought  to

have been argued before the High Court in the writ  petition  filed  by  the

occupiers/owners of cinema hall, in Isherdas Sahni & Bros and  Anr.  v.  The

Delhi Administration and Ors.  AIR 1980 Delhi 147.  No such contention  was,

however, urged before the High Court in support  of  the  challenge  to  the

demand for the removal of the seats  which  demand  was  based  entirely  on

assumption that the withdrawal of the notification has  had  the  effect  of

obliging the owners/occupiers to restore status quo  ante.  The  High  Court

took the view that recall of the notification would call for  a  review  qua

each cinema hall to determine whether  the  continuance  of  the  seats  was

substantially compliant with DCR, 1953. The High Court accordingly  directed

the authorities concerned  to  have  a  fresh  look  applying  the  test  of

substantial   compliance   while   determining   the   liability   of    the

owners/occupiers to remove the additional  seats.   The  occupiers  accepted

that direction. An exercise was accordingly undertaken though in  our  view,

unsatisfactorily, for the authorities concerned  failed  to  look  into  the

safety requirements which ought to have been given  foremost  importance  in

any such process.  The least, therefore,  that  can  be  said  is  that  the

argument that no obligation arose to remove the additional seats  by  reason

of the repeal of the notification dated 30th September,  1976  is  untenable

not only on merits, but also because the same  is  no  longer  available  in

view of what has been stated above, and the fact that  the  question  stands

concluded by the judgment of this Court in Isherdas  Sahni’s  case  (supra).

149.  We may at this stage deal with a  threefold  submission  made  by  Mr.

Jethmalani.  He contended that the appellant Ansal  Brothers  were  entitled

to assume that the licensing authority  had  done  its  duty  and  satisfied

itself about the premises being  adequately  safe  for  those  visiting  the

same.  Reliance in support of the submission  was  made  by  Mr.  Jethmalani

upon the English decisions in Green v. Fibreglass Ltd.  1958  (2)  QBD  245,

Gee v. The Metropolitan Railway Company 1873 VIII Q.B. 161 and Grant v.  Sun

Shipping Co. Ltd. and Anr. 1948 AC 549.

150.  The second  limb  of  Mr.  Jethmalani’s  contention  was  that  having

delegated their duties to persons like R.M.  Puri  whole-time  Director  and

the Managers employed for ensuring safety of those visiting the cinema,  the

Ansal brothers were entitled to assume that those incharge of  their  duties

would faithfully and effectively discharge the same  in  a  prudent  manner.

The employers of such employees could not be held vicariously  liable  under

the IPC for the failure of the latter to do what was enjoined upon  them  in

terms of  the  duties  attached  to  their  employment.   Support  for  that

proposition was drawn  by  Mr.  Jethmalani  from  the  English  decision  in

Hazeldine v. C.A. Daw and Son Ltd. and Ors. (1941) 2 KB 343. The third  limb

of the argument of  the  learned  counsel  was  that  having  convicted  and

sentenced the gatekeeper for the offence  punishable  under  Section  304-A,

the High Court could not hold the Ansals guilty or punish them for the  same

offence since there is no vicarious liability in criminal law.

151.  In Gee v. The Metropolitan Railway Company (supra), a train  passenger

leant on the door of a railway carriage believing it to have  been  properly

fastened, when in fact it was not. This resulted in  the  door  flying  open

and the passenger getting thrown out of  the  carriage.   The  question  was

whether there was any contributory negligence  on  the  part  of  the  train

passenger.  The Court held that the passenger was entitled  to  assume  that

the door had been properly fastened and that the accident  had  been  caused

by the defendants’ negligence.  The Court observed:

“Because I am  of  opinion  that  any  passenger  in  a  railway

carriage, who rises for the purpose either of looking out of the

window, or dealing with, and touching, and bringing his body  in

contact with the door for any lawful purpose whatsoever,  has  a

right to assume, and is justified in assuming, that the door  is

properly fastened; and if by reason of its  not  being  properly

fastened his lawful  act  causes  the  door  to  fly  open,  the

accident is caused by the defendants’ negligence.”

152.  The above decision was affirmed by the House of Lords in Grant v.  Sun

Shipping Co. Ltd.  and  Anr.  (supra)  where  an  injury  was  caused  to  a

stevedore on a  ship  when  he  wrongly  assumed  that  no  hatch  was  left

uncovered and unlit and therefore fell into the hatch.   The Court  in  that

case also was concerned with the question of  contributory  negligence.   It

is noteworthy that the Court qualified the principle stated in  Gee  v.  The

Metropolitan Railway Company’s case (supra) by holding that  a  prudent  man

would guard against the possible negligence of others when experience  shows

such negligence to be common.

153.  In Green v. Fibreglass Ltd. (supra), a cleaning lady was  injured  due

to faulty wiring on the premises where she was  invited  to  work.   It  was

held that the occupiers of the premises should be taken to  have  discharged

their duty to the plaintiff as inviters by  employing  competent  electrical

contractors and by taking the precaution of  rewiring  the  premises  before

they began to occupy the same.  If  some  act  was  to  be  performed  which

called for special knowledge and experience which the inviter could  not  be

expected to possess, he fulfilled his duty of care by employing a  qualified

and reputable expert to do the work.

154.  It appears from a reading of the above cases that the  principle  that

an occupier is entitled to assume  that  others  have  done  their  duty  is

applicable, provided that experience  has  not  revealed  to  him  that  the

negligence of others is common, nor did  he  at  any  time  have  reason  to

believe that his premises was unsafe. It is difficult for the  occupiers  in

the present case to argue that they did not have reason to believe that  the

premises was unsafe, given the occurrence of a  similar  fire  in  1989,  as

well as the number of occasions on which defects in their premises had  been

pointed out to them.  Moreover, although Section  12  of  the  Cinematograph

Act did require the licensing authority to take in  to  account  substantial

compliance  with  the  rules,  as  well  as  existence  of  adequate  safety

precautions in the premises, Rule 10(1) of DCR, 1953 unambiguously cast  the

responsibility  for  maintaining  such  compliance  and  safety   upon   the

occupier. The Act and Rules are silent  regarding  the  consequences  to  be

faced by a licensing authority who  does  not  fulfill  his  duty,  however,

Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act imposes a penalty on the occupier  of  a

licensed premises who violates the conditions of  the  cinema  license.  One

such condition in the present case was compliance with  the  First  Schedule

of the DCR, 1953. Therefore, this is not a situation where  the  law  treats

the occupier as an ignorant  person  who  requires  experts  to  verify  the

safety of his premises. Rather, the Act  places  an  independent  obligation

upon him  to  maintain  compliance  with  the  rules,  irrespective  of  the

assessment of the public authorities.

155.  It is, therefore, difficult to accept the argument that the  occupiers

in the present case blindly accepted the assessment of  the  inspecting  and

licensing authorities. If that were to be  true,  they  ought  not  to  have

resisted the removal of 43 extra seats in the  balcony  as  ordered  by  the

licensing authority pursuant to the withdrawal  of  the  1976  notification,

and they ought not to have failed to cure  the  defects  in  their  premises

pointed out by the MCD after the inspection in 1983.

156.  Reliance by Mr. Jethmalani  upon  the  decision  in  Hazeldine’s  case

(supra) to support the second limb of his argument is  also,  in  our  view,

misplaced.  That was a case, where the  landlord  had  employed  a  firm  of

engineers to adjust, clean and lubricate the  machinery  of  the  lift  once

every month, to repack the glands when needed and to report to  him  if  any

repairs were needed.  An employee of the engineers engaged for  the  purpose

repacked one of the  glands  but  failed  to  replace  it  properly  thereby

causing the gland to fracture when the lift was worked and  an  accident  in

which the plaintiff was injured.  The  Court  held  that  the  landlord  had

discharged his obligation to keep the lift reasonably safe  by  employing  a

competent firm of engineers. The owner of the lift  was  not,  observed  the

Court, aware of any defect or danger in operating the lift.

157.  The fact situation in the case at hand is  entirely  different.   Here

the duty to care for the safety of the invitees lies upon the occupiers  not

only under the common law but even  under  the  statutory  enactment.   More

importantly, the occupiers have, as  seen  in  the  earlier  parts  of  this

judgment, been aware at all material times, of  the  statutory  requirements

and  deviations  which  were  repeatedly  pointed  out  by  the  authorities

concerned as a safety hazard for the patrons of  the  cinema  theatre.   The

staff employed by the occupiers had no role to play in these  deviations  or

their removal.  There is nothing on record to  suggest  that  the  occupiers

had issued instructions to the staff to have  the  deviations  and  breaches

removed and/or corrected, or that those instructions were not complied  with

by the latter resulting in the  fire  incident  that  claimed  human  lives.

Unlike in Hazeldine’s case (supra), the occupiers  had  not  done  all  that

could and ought  to  have  been  done  by  them  to  avert  any  tragedy  in

connection with the use of an unsafe premises frequented by the  public  for

entertainment.

158.  Equally untenable is the argument that since  the  gatekeeper  of  the

balcony has been found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment,  the  occupiers

must be held to be innocent.  The argument is an  attempt  to  over-simplify

the legal position ignoring the factual matrix in which the prosecution  was

launched and the appellants found guilty.  If  the  appellants  have  indeed

committed gross negligence resulting in the  death  of  a  large  number  of

innocents, they cannot argue that just because one  of  those  found  to  be

equally rash or negligent had been convicted for the very same offence  they

must be held to be not at fault.

159.  Mr. Jethmalani  next  argued  that  the  charges  framed  against  the

accused-appellants, Sushil and Gopal Ansal were defective  inasmuch  as  the

same did not specify the days or period when  the  offence  took  place  nor

even indicate the statutory  provisions,  rules  and  regulations  allegedly

violated by the appellants or accuse  the  appellants  of  gross  negligence

which alone could constitute  an  offence  under  Section  304A  IPC.  These

defects,  contended  the  learned  counsel,  had  caused  prejudice  to  the

appellants in their defence and ought to vitiate the  trial  and  result  in

their acquittal.  A  similar  contention,  it  appears,  was  urged  by  the

appellants even before the High  Court  who  has  referred  to  the  charges

framed against the appellants at some length and discussed the  law  on  the

point by reference to Sections 211, 215 and Section 464 of  the  Cr.P.C.  to

hold that the charges were reasonably clear and that  no  prejudice  in  any

case had been caused to the appellants  to  warrant  interference  with  the

trial or the conviction of the  appellants  on  that  ground.   Reliance  in

support was placed by the High Court upon the  decision  of  this  Court  in

Willie (William) Slaney v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR  1956  SC  116)  and

several later decisions that have  reiterated  the  legal  position  on  the

subject.  There is in our opinion no error in the view  taken  by  the  High

Court in this regard.  Section 464 of the  Cr.P.C.  completely  answers  the

contention urged on behalf of the appellants.   It  in  no  uncertain  terms

provides that an error, omission or irregularity  in  the  charge  including

any misjoinder of charges shall not invalidate any sentence or order  passed

by a Court of competent jurisdiction unless in the opinion  of  a  Court  of

appeal, confirmation or revision a failure  of  justice  has  in  fact  been

occasioned thereby.  The language employed in Section 464 is so  plain  that

the same does not require any elaboration as to the approach to  be  adopted

by the Court. Even so the pronouncements of this Court not only in  Slaney’s

case (supra) but in a long line of subsequent  decisions  place  the  matter

beyond the pale of any  further  deliberation  on  the  subject.   See  K.C.

Mathew v. State of Travancore-Cochin AIR 1956 SC  241,  Gurbachan  Singh  v.

State of Punjab AIR 1957 SC 823, Eirichh Bhuian v. State of Bihar  AIR  1963

SC 1120, State of Maharashtra v. Ramdas Shrinivas Nayak AIR  1982  SC  1249,

Lallan Rai v. State of Bihar (2003) 1 SCC 268 and State (NCT  of  Delhi)  v.

Navjot Sandhu (2005) 11 SCC 600.

160.  In Slaney’s case (supra)  Vivian  Bose,  J.  speaking  for  the  Court

observed:

“5…What it narrows down to  is  this.  Is  the  charge  to  be

regarded as a ritualistic formula so sacred and fundamental that

a total absence of one, or any departure in it from  the  strict

and technical requirements of the Code, is so vital as to cut at

the root of the trial and vitiate it from the start,  or  is  it

one of many regulations designed to ensure  a  fair  and  proper

trial so that  substantial,  as  opposed  to  purely  technical,

compliance with the spirit and requirements of the Code in  this

behalf is enough to cure departures from the  strict  letter  of

the law ?

6. Before we proceed to set  out  our  answer  and  examine  the

provisions of the Code, we will pause to observe that  the  Code

is a code  of  procedure  and,  like  all  procedural  laws,  is

designed to further the ends of justice  and  not  to  frustrate

them by the introduction of endless technicalities.  The  object

of the Code is to ensure that an accused person gets a full  and

fair trial along certain  well-established  and  well-understood

lines that accord with our notions of  natural  justice.  If  he

does, if he is tried by a competent court, if  he  is  told  and

clearly understands the nature of the offence for  which  he  is

being tried, if  the  case  against  him  is  fully  and  fairly

explained to him and he is afforded a full and fair  opportunity

of  defending  himself,  then,  provided  there  is  substantial

compliance with the outward forms of the law, mere  mistakes  in

procedure, mere inconsequential  errors  and  omissions  in  the

trial are regarded as venal by the Code and  the  trial  is  not

vitiated unless the  accused  can  show  substantial  prejudice.

That, broadly speaking, is the basic principle on which the Code

is based…”

161.  To the same effect are the  subsequent  decisions  of  this  Court  to

which we have referred to above.  Applying the test laid down  in  the  said

cases we have no hesitation in holding that there was nothing  fundamentally

wrong  with  the  charges  framed  against  the  appellants  nor  have   the

appellants been able to demonstrate that  they  suffered  any  prejudice  on

account of the alleged defects.  The High Court has in our opinion  taken  a

correct view on the question urged  before  which  does  not  call  for  any

interference.

162.  It was also contended by Mr. Jethmalani that  all  such  incriminating

circumstances as have been used against the appellants were not put  to  the

accused. The High Court has while dealing with a  similar  contention  urged

before it carefully examined the case of each appellant and found  no  merit

in them.  That apart we have been taken through the statements made  by  the

accused  under  Section  313  Cr.P.C.  and   find   that   the   same   have

comprehensively put the circumstances appearing against  the  appellants  to

them and thereby given them an opportunity to explain  the  same.   Besides,

so long as there is no prejudice demonstrated by the appellants  on  account

of any deficiency in the statements, there is  no  question  of  this  Court

interfering with the concurrent judgments and orders of the Courts below.

163.  We may at this stage simply refer to the decision  of  this  Court  in

Jai Dev v. State of Punjab AIR 1963 SC 612, where  P.B.  Gajendragadkar,  J.

(as His Lordship then was) speaking for a three-Judge  Bench  explained  the

purpose  underlying  the  statement  under  Section  342  (now  Section  313

Cr.P.C.) in the following words:

“The ultimate test in determining whether or not the accused has

been fairly examined under  Section  342  would  be  to  enquire

whether, having regard to all the questions put to him,  he  did

get an opportunity to say what he wanted to say  in  respect  of

prosecution  case  against  him.   If  it   appears   that   the

examination of the accused person was defective  and  thereby  a

prejudice has been caused to him,  that  would  no  doubt  be  a

serious infirmity.”

164. We may also refer to the decision of this Court  in  Shivaji  Sahabrao

Bobade v. State of Maharashtra (1973) 2 SCC 793, where this Court  declared

that an omission in the statement under Section 313  does  not  ipso  facto

vitiate the proceedings and that prejudice occasioned by such  defect  must

be established by the accused. The following  passage  is  in  this  regard

apposite:

“It is trite law, nevertheless fundamental, that the  prisoner’s

attention should be drawn to every inculpatory material so as to

enable him to explain it.  This  is  the  basic  fairness  of  a

criminal trial and failures in this area may gravely imperil the

validity of the trial itself, if  consequential  miscarriage  of

justice  has  flowed.   However,  where  such  an  omission  has

occurred it does not ipso  facto  vitiate  the  proceedings  and

prejudice occasioned by such defect must be established  by  the

accused.  In the event of evidentiary material not being put  to

the accused, the court must ordinarily eschew such material from

consideration. It is also open to the appellate  court  to  call

upon the counsel for the accused to show  what  explanation  the

accused has as regards the circumstances established against him

but not put to him and if the accused is  unable  to  offer  the

appellate court any plausible or reasonable explanation of  such

circumstances, the Court may assume that  no  acceptable  answer

exists and that even if the accused had been questioned  at  the

proper time in the trial court he would not have  been  able  to

furnish any good ground to get out of the circumstances on which

the trial court had relied for its conviction. In such  a  case,

the  Court  proceeds  on  the  footing  that  though   a   grave

irregularity has occurred as regards compliance with Section 342

Cr.P.C. the omission has not been  shown  to  have  been  caused

prejudice to the accused.”

165.  To the same effect is the decision  of  this  Court  in  State  (Delhi

Admn.) v. Dharampal (2001) 10 SCC  372  and  Bakhshish  Singh  v.  State  of

Punjab AIR 1967 SC 752.

166. Suffice it to say that the circumstances appearing against the  accused

persons have been elaborately put to them  under  Section  313  Cr.P.C.  The

contention that the appellants suffered any prejudice on account of a  given

circumstance not having put to them has, in our opinion,  no  merit  and  is

accordingly rejected.

166.  In the light of the above discussion, we see no  reason  to  interfere

with the judgments and orders of the Courts below in  so  far  as  the  same

have convicted appellant-Ansal brothers for offences  under  Sections  304A,

337, 338 read with Section 36 IPC and Section 14 of the  Cinematograph  Act,

1952.

167.  As regards the conviction of Divisional Fire  Officer,  H.  S.  Panwar

(A15) assailed in Criminal Appeal No.599/2010, the  trial  Court  has  on  a

reappraisal of the evidence  adduced  at  the  trial  found  that  the  said

accused had acted in a grossly rash  and  negligent  manner  in  issuing  No

Objection Certificates without carrying  out  a  proper  inspection  of  the

cinema hall from the fire safety angle,  resulting  in  issue  of  temporary

permits in favour of the theatre which directly resulted in the death of  59

persons in the incident in question.  The trial Court observed:

“Accused H.S. Panwar acted with gross negligence by recommending

‘No Objection certificate’ without  fulfilling  requirements  of

law and without carrying  out  inspection  of  the  cinema  hall

building from fire  safety  point  of  view,  resulting  in  the

issuance of temporary permits and  on  the  basis  of  the  same

exhibition of films, which action resulted into the death of the

patrons inside the cinema hall on the day of the incident.   The

accused committed breach of duty by omitting to  point  out  the

fire hazards and deficiencies in fire fighting measures  in  the

cinema building, which act amounts to culpable negligence on his

part.  The act of accused can also  be  described  as  ‘culpable

rashness’ since being an officer from the office of  Chief  Fire

Officer, he was conscious that the intended  consequences  would

surely ensure.  The accused by, omitting to do his lawful duties

committed gross negligence and rashness which was the direct and

proximate cause of the death of 59  persons.   Accordingly,  the

accused H.S. Panwar is held guilty for the offence under Section

304A IPC read with section 36 IPC.  The  accused  is  also  held

guilty for the injury to the patrons in the cinema hall for  the

offence under section 337 and 338 IPC.”

(emphasis supplied)

168.  The above finding was affirmed by the  High  Court  in  the  following

words with a reduction in his sentence:

“… Concerning accused H.S. Panwar, the  negligent  and  careless

inspection carried out by him has been  held to be a significant

and direct cause of the  accident,  which  took  away  lives  of

innocent people, and grievously  injured  several  others.   His

vigil could have prevented the fire clearance  certificate.   If

he had displayed the same zeal that he did  in  November,  1996,

when the inspection report did not yield a no objection?   (sic)

There would have been a greater  scrutiny  of  the  fire  safety

norms.  Instead, he certified that fire safety  norms  had  been

complied with, whereas in actuality they were not.  No doubt, he

has served the Delhi Fire Service for a long time; according  to

the trial court judgment, he was  68  years  when  the  impugned

judgment  was  pronounced.   He   is   also   a   recipient   of

commendations.  On a conspectus of all these circumstances,  the

court is of the opinion that ends of justice would be served  if

the sentence is reduced to rigorous imprisonment  for  one  year

and Rs.5000/- under section 304-A.  The default sentence in  his

case is also modified to simple  imprisonment  for  two  months.

The conviction by the trial court is therefore maintained and to

the above extent….”

169.  Mr. Mehrotra, learned counsel for the appellant  H.S.  Panwar  made  a

two-fold submission in support  of  his  appeal.   Firstly  he  argued  that

according to the standard practice prevalent  in  the  Fire  Department  the

appellant H.S. Panwar then Divisional Fire Officer was required  to  give  a

report in terms of the  proforma  prescribed  for  the  purpose.   This  was

according to the learned counsel evident from the deposition  of  Shri  G.D.

Verma (PW 37) the then Chief Fire  Officer.   He  urged  that  even  earlier

inspections had been made on the basis of the very same proforma, which  was

correctly filled up by the appellant furnishing  the  requisite  information

demanded in the proforma.

170.   Secondly  it  was  contended  by  Mr.  Mehrotra  that  the   Victims’

Association had claimed compensation from the management of the  theatre  as

well as MCD Delhi Fire Service, in which case the High Court had  exonerated

Delhi Fire Service.  That finding had attained finality as the same was  not

challenged by the Association. This, argued  the  learned  counsel,  implied

that the Fire Service or its officers were not at fault for  the  occurrence

in question, a circumstance which could and ought to be kept in view.

171.  There is, in our opinion, no merit in either one  of  the  submissions

made by Mr. Mehrotra. Clearance by the Fire Department  was,  it  is  common

ground, an essential pre-requisite for the grant of a license,  its  renewal

or the issue of a temporary permit  for  exhibition  of  the  films  in  any

cinema hall. This clearance could be granted only if the officers  concerned

were fully satisfied after an inspection of the  cinema  premises  that  the

same was indeed safe for use  as a place for exhibition  of  cinematographs.

Anyone discharging that important function had to be extremely vigilant  as,

any neglect on his part could allow an unsafe premises being used  resulting

in serious consequences as in the present case.   Far  from  being  vigilant

and careful about the inspection, H.S. Panwar  grossly  neglected  the  duty

cast  upon  him,  resulting  in  the  issue  of  temporary  permits,   which

contributed  to  the  causa  causans  of  the  incident.  It   is   in   the

circumstances no defence for the appellant-H.S. Panwar to plead that he  was

asked to report only according to  the  proforma  furnished  to  him.  As  a

senior and experienced officer in the Fire Service Department, he  ought  to

have known the purpose of his inspection and the care  he  was  required  to

take in the interest of the safety of hundreds, if not  thousands  of  cine-

goers who throng to such public places for entertainment. In as much  as  he

failed to do so, and issued  a  certificate  which  compromised  the  safety

requirements and endangered human lives resulting directly in the loss of  a

large number of them, he has been rightly found guilty.

172.  So also the second  limb  of  Mr.  Mehrotra’s  submission  is  in  our

opinion without any substance.  The  question  whether  the  appellant  H.S.

Panwar was grossly negligent resulting in the loss of valuable  human  lives

has to be determined on the basis of the evidence on record in  the  present

case and not on the basis of findings which the High Court may have held  in

a summary proceedings for payment of compensation to the victims  and  their

families recorded under Article 226 of the constitution.   The  evidence  in

the case at hand has been appraised by the two Courts  below  and  found  to

establish the charge of negligence against the appellant.  There is, in  our

opinion, no compelling reason for us to take a different view in the  matter

especially when we do not see any miscarriage of justice  or  perversity  in

the reasoning adopted by the trial Court and the High Court.

173.  It brings us to Criminal Appeals No.617-627 of 2010 and  604  of  2010

filed by B.M. Satija (A-9) and Bir  Singh  (A-11)  respectively.  They  were

together  with  A.K.  Gera  (A-10)  charged  with  commission  of   offences

punishable under Sections 304 read with Section 36 of the  IPC.   The  trial

Court, as already noticed in the earlier part of  this  judgment,  held  all

the three accused persons mentioned above guilty of the offence  with  which

they were charged and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment for  a

period  of  seven  years  besides  a  fine  of  Rs.5000/-  and  six   months

imprisonment in default. In criminal appeals  filed  by  the  three  accused

persons, the High Court has converted the conviction from Section  304  Part

II to Sections 304A, 337 and 338 read with Section 36 of the IPC in  so  far

as B.M. Satija (A-9) and Bir Singh (A-11) are  concerned,  while  acquitting

A.K. Gera (A-10) of the charge. The  High  Court  has  further  reduced  the

sentence awarded to the appellants B.M. Satija (A-9) and  Bir  Singh  (A-11)

from seven years rigorous imprisonment to two years and a fine of  Rs.2000/-

each for the offence under Section  304-A,  rigorous  imprisonment  for  six

months with fine of Rs.500/- for the offence  under  Section  337,  IPC  and

rigorous imprisonment for one year, with fine of Rs.1000/- for  the  offence

under Section 338, IPC.  While appellants B.M. Satija (A-9)  and  Bir  Singh

(A-11) have assailed their conviction and sentence before us,  the  CBI  has

challenged the acquittal of A.K. Gera (A-10) in Criminal Appeals  No.605-616

of 2010.

174.  Appearing for appellant-B.M. Satija, Mr.  V.V.  Giri,  learned  senior

counsel argued that the appellant was not one of those deputed to attend  to

the complaint about  the  malfunctioning  of  the  DVB  transformer  on  the

morning of 13th June, 1997.  He  submitted  that  evidence  adduced  by  the

prosecution regarding his presence  and  association  with  the  process  of

rectification was sketchy and did not prove beyond a  reasonable  doubt  his

presence on the spot.  He made an attempt to  persuade  us  to  reverse  the

concurrent findings of fact recorded by two Courts below in this regard  and

drew our attention to the depositions of P.C. Bhardwaj  (PW-40),  V.K  Gupta

(PW-43) and Bhagwandeen (PW-44) as also the documents  marked  Ex.  PW-40/C,

40/A and 40/P.  He urged that the CFSL report recording the signatures  sent

for examination did not lend any support to the prosecution case.

175.  Mr.  Gopal  Singh,  Senior  Counsel  appearing  for  A.K.  Gera  (A-9)

respondent in CBI’s Criminal Appeal No.605-616 of 2010  contended  that  the

order passed by the High Court was based on  appreciation  of  the  evidence

adduced by the trial Court and that interference  with  any  such  order  of

acquittal is rare unless it is found to  be  patently  perverse.   He  urged

that his client A.K. Gera (A-9) was not posted  in  the  concerned  zone  in

which the DVB transformer was installed.  He had nothing  to  do  with  this

act.  The trial Court and the High Court have both  concurrently  held  that

the repairs of the DVB transformer were carried out by Bir Singh (A-11)  and

B.M. Satija A(-9).  That finding is without any perversity.  The High  Court

has relying upon the depositions of P.C. Bhardwaj  (PW-40)  and  Bhagwandeen

(PW-44) observed:

“14.12      So far as role of the accused B.M.  Satija  and  Bir

Singh are concerned, PW-40 P.C. Bhardwaj deposed having informed

B.M. Satija about the morning complaint.  PW-44 deposed that all

3, i.e.,  Gera,  Satija  and  Bir  Singh  were  instrumental  in

repairing of the DVB transformer at Uphaar  in  the  morning  of

13.6.1997.  Expert evidence in the form  of  PW-35/A;  Ex.PW36/A

all established that the cause of fire was improper crimping  of

the cable end with the socket which ultimately detached  at  the

crucial time, resulted in intense sparking, settling down of the

cable on the transformer which resulted in a  slit;  transformer

oil gushed out, caught fire  and  spread  to  the  parking  area

resulting in the improperly parked vehicles catching fire.

14.13       xxxxx

14.14 The depositions of other witnesses assume importance.  PW-

40 clearly mentioned that he had discussed  the  complaint  with

Satija and chalked out the  programme.   PW/44  clearly  deposed

having accompanied Satija, Bir Singh and Gera  to  the  relevant

site at Uphar and witnessing the repairs with the aid of dye and

hammer.  At one place, he mentioned that Bir Singh  carried  out

the repair under  the  supervision  of  both  the  officers,  in

another place of his deposition, he mentioned that  Bir  Singh’s

work was supervised by Satija.”

176.  The above findings do not in our view suffer from  any  perversity  or

any miscarriage of justice or call for interference  under  appeal  in  this

connection under Article 136 of the Constitution of India.  Even  in  regard

to A.K. Gera (A-9), the High Court has held that he was present on the  spot

but in the absence of any further evidence to prove the role played by  him,

the High Court considered it unsafe to convict him for imprisonment:

“On an overall conspectus of the above facts, this Court  is  of

opinion that though Gera’s presence at site stands  established,

in the absence of fuller evidence about the role played by  him,

there can be no presumption that  he  played  any  part  in  the

defective repairs, carried out without the aid of  the  crimping

machine on the Uphaar DVB transformer.  Mere presence when  that

cannot lead to presumption of involvement of an actor who is not

expected to play any role and is insufficient, in the opinion of

the Court, to saddle criminal liability of the  kind  envisioned

under  Section 304-A.  To establish that Gera had a duty to care

to ensure that notwithstanding the  defective  crimping  carried

out by the employees competent to do  so  and  that  he  had  an

overriding responsibility of objecting to the work done by them,

without proving whether he was there during the entire operation

and if so how the extent of his involvement, the conviction  for

causing death due to criminal negligence cannot be  arrived  at.

Although,  there  are  circumstances  which  point   to   Gera’s

presence, they may even amount to suspicion of the  role  played

by him, yet such evidence proved are insufficient to  prove  the

case against him beyond reasonable doubt.  In the circumstances,

neither can be he convicted under Section 304 Part-II, nor under

Section 304-A read with 337/338 and 36 IPC.”

177.  In fairness to Mr. Salve, learned counsel appearing for  the  CBI,  we

must mention that he did not seriously assail the above reasoning  given  by

the High Court.  At any rate,  the  view  taken  by  the  High  Court  is  a

possible view. We see no compelling reason to interfere with  that  view  in

the facts and circumstances of the case.  Having  said  that,  the  question

remains whether the High Court was justified in  convicting  appellants  Bir

Singh (A-11) and B.M. Satija (A-9) for  the  offence  of  causing  death  by

rashness and gross negligence, punishable under sections 304A of the IPC.

178.  In our view, the causa causans for the death of 59 persons  was  their

inability to quickly exit from the balcony area for reasons we have  already

indicated. That being so, even when the repairs carried out by Bir Singh (A-

11) and B.M. Satija (A-9) may have been found to be unsatisfactory  for  the

reasons given by  the  trial  Court  and  the  High  Court,  which  we  have

affirmed, the fire resulting from such poor repair was no  more  than  causa

sine qua non for the deaths and, therefore, did not  constitute  an  offence

punishable under Section 304A of the IPC. Besides,  the  negligence  of  the

occupiers of the cinema having intervened between the  negligence  of  these

two officials of the DVB and the deaths that occurred in the  incident,  the

causal connection between the  deaths  and  act  of  shabby  repair  of  the

installation of the DVB transformer is not established directly.

179.  The conviction of these two  appellants  under  Section  304A  cannot,

therefore, be sustained.  That would, however, not affect  their  conviction

under Sections 337 and 338 read with Section  36  of  the  IPC  which  would

remain unaffected and is hereby affirmed.

180.  Question No.1 is accordingly answered on the above lines.

Re: Question No.II:

181.  The charge framed against N.S. Chopra  (A-6)  and  other  Managers  of

Uphaar Cinema was  one  for  commission  of  the  offence  punishable  under

Section 304 Part II read with Section 36 of the  IPC.  The  allegation  made

against the Managers was that even when they were present  on  the  premises

at the time of the incident, they had failed to either warn the  patrons  or

facilitate their escape. They instead fled the scene despite  the  knowledge

that  death  was  likely  to  be  caused  by  their  acts  of  omission  and

commission.  The Trial Court had found the charge proved and  convicted  and

sentenced N.S. Chopra to undergo imprisonment for a period  of  seven  years

besides a fine of Rs.5,000/- and imprisonment for six months in  default  of

payment. The High Court reversed that view qua N.S.  Chopra  and  also  R.K.

Sharma (A-5) (since deceased). The High Court acquitted them of the  charges

for reasons which it summed up in the following words:

“10.11 Section 304, first part requires proof  of  intention  to

cause death or such bodily harm as would cause death; the second

part requires proof that  knowledge  existed  that  such  injury

would result in death, or grievous injury likely  to  result  in

death. The crucial aspect in both cases, is the state  of  mind,

i.e “intention” or “knowledge” of the consequence. Proof of such

intention or knowledge has to be necessarily, of a  high  order;

all other hypotheses of innocence of the  accused,  have  to  be

ruled out. The prosecution here, glaringly has not  proved  when

these two accused fled the cinema hall; there is  no  eyewitness

testifying to their having been in the balcony  when  the  smoke

entered the hall, and having left it, which could   have  proved

knowledge of the likely deaths  and  grievous  bodily  injuries.

Thus,  this  court  is  of  the  opinion  that  proof  of  these

appellants, i.e N.S. Chopra and R.K.  Sharma,  having  committed

the  offence  under  Section  304,  is  not  forthcoming.  Their

conviction  under   that   provision   cannot,   therefore,   be

sustained.”

(emphasis supplied)

182.  The High Court also examined  whether  N.S.  Chopra  and  R.K.  Sharma

could be convicted under Section 304A IPC, and  answered  that  question  in

the negative.  The High Court was of  the  view  that  the  prosecution  had

failed to establish that N.S. Chopra was present on the scene and also  that

the documentary evidence adduced  at  the  trial  proved  that  he  had  not

reported for duty on the fateful day.  The High Court observed:

“10.13 As far  as  R.  K.  Sharma  is  concerned,  the  evidence

establishes that he had reported for duty… N.S. Chopra,  on  the

other hand, according to the documentary evidence (Ex. PW-108/DB-

1, found in  Ex.PW97/C)  had  not  reported  for  duty.  In  his

statement under Section 313, he  mentioned  having  reached  the

cinema hall at 5-30 PM, and not being allowed inside, since  the

fire was raging in the building.

xx xx xx

10.17 The totality of the above circumstances no doubt points to

complete managerial and supervisory failure in the cinema.  Such

inaction is certainly culpable, and points to grave lapses. This

undoubtedly  was  an  important  and  significant  part  of  the

causation chain. Yet, to convict the  accused  R.K.  Sharma  and

N.C.  Chopra,  there  should  be  more   convincing   proof   of

involvement. At best, there is evidence of  suspicion  of  their

involvement. Yet, no attempt to prove that  they  were  present,

and did not take any effective measures to evacuate the patrons,

which they were bound to do, in the normal course of their duty,

has been made. Mere proof  that  these  accused  were  Assistant

Manager, and Manager, as on the date of the accident,  and  that

one of them  had  reported  earlier,  during  the  day,  is  not

adequate  to  prove  that  they  caused  death   by   criminally

negligent, or rash act. There was failure on  the  part  of  the

trial court to notice that the two vital aspects, i.e  duty  and

breach of that duty of such scale, as to amount to  an  offence.

Their appeals are entitled to succeed. These appellants have to,

therefore, be acquitted of  the  charges.  Their  conviction  is

consequently set aside.”

(emphasis supplied)

183.  In fairness to Mr. Salve and Mr. Tulsi, we must say  that  no  serious

attempt was made by them to demolish  the  reasoning  adopted  by  the  High

Court in coming to its conclusion.  That apart, the view taken by  the  High

Court on a fair appreciation of the evidence,  both  oral  and  documentary,

does not even otherwise call for any interference by us as  the  same  is  a

reasonably possible view.

184.  Coming then to the acquittal of S.S. Sharma (A-13) and N.D. Tiwari (A-

14), Administrative Officers, MCD, the charges framed against the  said  two

accused persons were for offences punishable under  Section  304A,  337  and

338 read with Section 36 IPC. The allegation levelled against them was  that

they negligently issued No Objection certificates to Uphaar  Cinema  in  the

years 1995-96 and 1996-97 without so much as conducting inspections  of  the

premises, and thereby committed a breach of the Cinematograph  Act  and  the

Rules made thereunder.  The Trial Court found that  charge  established  and

accordingly convicted and sentenced both  the  accused  persons  to  undergo

imprisonment for a period of two years and a  fine  of  Rs.5,000/-  for  the

offence  punishable  under  Section  304A,  six  months  for   the   offence

punishable under Section 337 and two years under Section 338  of  the  Code.

The High Court has in appeal  reversed  the  conviction  and  the  sentences

awarded to the accused persons on the reasoning that it  summed  up  in  the

following words:

“13.6 The prosecution, in order to  succeed  in  its  charge  of

accused Mr. S.S. Sharma and Mr. N.D. Tiwari  having  acted  with

criminal negligence and caused death and serious injury,  should

have first established the duty  of  care  either  through  some

enacted law like DCR, 1953  or  DCR,  1981  or  a  general  duty

discernable in their normal course  of  official  functions.  In

addition, the prosecution should have established breach of such

duty would have resulted in a foreseeable damage and death to or

in grievous injury to several persons. Unlike in the case of the

Fire Department, the  Licensing  Department  or  the  Electrical

Inspectorate, all of whom are  named  authorities  empowered  to

inspect  the  premises,   there   is   no   role   assigned   to

Administrative Officers of the MCD. The rationale for  obtaining

‘no objections’ from these officers has been  left  unexplained.

The prosecution has failed to establish the necessity  for  such

No Objection Certificate and how without such document,  by  the

Administrative Officers of MCD,  the  licensing  authority,  DCP

(Licensing) would not have  issued  the  temporary  permit.  Ex.

22/A,  the  letter  by  the  licensing  department  is  in  fact

addressed to the Building department, MCD.

xx xx xx

13.8 The materials on record nowhere disclose how,  even  if  it

were assumed that Mr. S.S. Sharma and Mr. N.D.  Tiwari  breached

their duties of care, the breach was of such magnitude as  would

have inevitably led to  death  or  grievous  injury  to  several

persons and that such consequence was reasonably foreseeable  by

them when they issued No Objection Certificates. No  doubt,  the

issuance of No Objection Certificates and handing them  over  to

the beneficiary directly was a careless, even  callous  act.  It

was also used to be placed on the record as  a  prelude  to  the

issuance  of  the  permits.  But  in  the  absence  of   clearly

discernable duty of care and the magnitude of foreseeable damage

by these accused, this Court cannot affirm the findings  of  the

Trial Court and their conviction.

13.9 The appeals of Mr. S.S. Sharma and  Mr.  N.D.  Tiwari  are,

therefore, entitled to succeed.”

(emphasis supplied)

185.  There was no serious argument advanced by either Mr. Salve,  appearing

for the CBI or Mr. Tulsi for assailing the correctness of the view taken  by

the High Court in appeal and rightly so because the High Court has,  in  our

opinion, taken a fairly reasonable view which is in tune with  the  evidence

on record. There is, in our opinion, no room for our interference even  with

this part of the order passed by the High Court by which it  acquitted  S.S.

Sharma and N.D. Tiwari, Administrative Officers of the MCD.  Our  answer  to

Question No.II is in the affirmative.

Re: Question No.III:

186.  The Trial Court had framed charges against the accused persons  by  an

order dated 9th April, 2001 by which Sushil and  Gopal  Ansal  were  charged

with commission of offence punishable under Section 304A, 337 and  338  read

with Section 36 IPC.  Against that order framing charges the Association  of

Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) filed  Criminal  Revision  No.270  of  2001

before the Delhi High Court to contend that a charge under Section  304  IPC

also ought to have been framed against the said  two  accused  persons.  The

case of the association was that there was overwhelming evidence  on  record

to establish the charge.  That revision eventually failed and was  dismissed

by the High Court by its order dated 11th September, 2001 (Sushil  Ansal  v.

State Through CBI etc. etc. 1995 (2002) DLT 623). Revision  petitions  filed

by other accused persons against the order  of  framing  charges  were  also

dismissed by the High Court by  the  very  same  order.   Dealing  with  the

contention urged on behalf of the AVUT the High Court observed:

“34. The plea of Association of Victims  of  Uphaar  Tragedy  to

frame charges under Section 304 IPC against accused  Sh.  Sushil

Ansal and Sh. Gopal Ansal, in addition to  the  charges  already

framed against them, cannot be sustained in  as  much  as  prima

facie a case of negligence only is made out  against  them.  The

allegations against them gross negligence,  wanton  carelessness

and  callous  indifference  in  regard  to   the   up-keep   and

maintenance of the cinema. Had rapid dispersal  facilities  been

available to the patrons in the  balcony,  no  death  or  injury

could have taken place  and  as  such,  this  Court  is  of  the

considered view that there are no good  and  sufficient  grounds

for slapping a charge under Section 304 IPC  against  these  two

accused.”

187.  What is significant is that AVUT did not bring up the matter  to  this

Court against the above order passed by the High  Court.  On  the  contrary,

Sushil Ansal appears to have filed a special leave petition  in  this  Court

challenging the dismissal of the revision petition by the High  Court  which

was subsequently dismissed as withdrawn by this Court by  order  dated  12th

April, 2002.  The result was that the  trial  commenced  against  the  Ansal

brothers on the basis of the charges framed by the Trial Court.

188.  The AVUT during the course of the trial made another attempt  to  have

the charge under Section 304  IPC  framed  against  the  Ansal  brothers  by

moving an application before the Trial  Court  to  that  effect.  The  Trial

Court, however, disposed of  that  application  stating  that  if  it  found

sufficient evidence against the Ansal brothers  justifying  a  charge  under

Section 304 IPC or any other person for that matter, it  would  take  action

suo moto for framing such a charge. Final judgment of the  Trial  Court  was

delivered on 20th November, 2007 in which it  convicted  Ansal  brothers  of

the offence under Section 304A of the IPC,  which  clearly  meant  that  the

Trial Court had not found any reason to frame any additional charge  against

them under Section 304 IPC.

189.  Aggrieved by the omission of the Trial Court to frame a  charge  under

Section 304 IPC, AVUT filed a revision petition before the High Court  which

too was dismissed by the High Court with the observation that their  earlier

revision petition framing charges under Sections 304, 337 and 338 read  with

Section 36 having been dismissed by the  High  Court,  the  said  order  had

become final, especially when the revisionist AVUT did not carry the  matter

further to this Court. The High Court also held that the appeal against  the

conviction of the Ansal brothers having  been  disposed  of,  there  was  no

question of framing any charge for a graver offence in the  absence  of  any

evidence unequivocally establishing that such a charge was made out and  yet

had not been framed.  The High Court held that procedure for  misjoinder  of

charges under Section 216 applied during the stage of  trial,  whereas  AVUT

was asking for a remand of the matter for a  retrial  on  the  fresh  charge

under Section 304 Part II, which was not permissible  under  the  scheme  of

the Code. The High Court also rejected the contention  that  Ansal  brothers

could be convicted for an offence graver than what they were charged with.

190.  In the appeal filed by AVUT against  the  order  passed  by  the  High

Court in the above revision petition,  they  have  agitated  the  very  same

issue before us.  Appearing for the Victims Association,  Mr.  Tulsi  argued

that the acts of omission and commission of  Ansal  brothers  by  which  the

egress of the patrons was obstructed warranted a conviction not  merely  for

the offence punishable under Section 304A  IPC  but  also  for  the  offence

punishable under Section 304 Part II since according to the learned  counsel

the said acts were committed with the knowledge that  death  was  likely  to

result  thereby.   Mr.  Tulsi  in  particular  contended  that  the  act  of

installing an eight-seater box that entirely blocked the right-side exit  in

the balcony was itself sufficient for the Court to order a  retrial  of  the

Ansal brothers, since they knew by such an act they  were  likely  to  cause

death of the patrons in the event of a fire incident. On  that  premise,  he

contended that the matter should be remanded back to  the  Trial  Court  for

retrial for commission of the offence punishable under Section 304 Part  II.

In support of the contention that the fact situation in  the  case  at  hand

established a case under Section 304 Part II, Mr. Tulsi placed  reliance  on

the  decision  of  this  Court  in  Alister  Anthony  Pereira  v.  State  of

Maharashtra  (2012)  2  SCC  648  where  this  Court  was  dealing  with  an

inebriated driver, driving under the influence of alcohol causing the  death

of people on the footpath.  He contended that this Court had  in  that  fact

situation held that by driving recklessly under  the  influence  of  alcohol

the driver knew that he can thereby  kill  someone.   Anyone  causing  death

must be deemed to have had the  knowledge  that  his  act  of  omission  and

commission was likely to result in the loss of human lives.

191.  Mr. Ram Jethmalani, learned counsel for Ansal brothers  on  the  other

hand placed reliance upon the decision of this Court in Keshub  Mahindra  v.

State of M.P. (1996) 6 SCC 129 and argued that a case where a  person  in  a

drunken  state  of  mind  drives  a   vehicle   recklessly   is   completely

distinguishable from the case at hand and that the fact situations  are  not

comparable in the least.  On the contrary in the  case  of  Keshub  Mahindra

(supra), this Court has clearly repelled  the  contention  that  the  charge

under Section 304 Part II would be maintained  against  those  handling  the

plant from which the lethal MIC gas had leaked to cause  what  is  known  as

the infamous Bhopal Gas Tragedy in which  thousands  of  human  beings  lost

their lives.  If this Court did not find a case under Section  304  Part  II

made out in a case where the tragedy had left thousands dead,  the  question

of the present unfortunate incident being treated as one under  Section  304

Part II did not arise, contended Mr. Jethmalani.

192. In Alister Anthony Pereira’s case (supra), the accused was  driving  in

an inebriated condition when he ran over a number of labourers  sleeping  on

the pavement, killing seven of them.  The Trial Court convicted the  accused

under Sections 304A and 337 IPC but acquitted him under Section 304 Part  II

and 338 IPC. The Bombay High Court set aside  the  acquittal  and  convicted

the accused for offences under Sections 304 Part II, 337 and 338 IPC.   This

Court affirmed the said judgment of  the  High  Court  and  while  doing  so

explained the distinction between the offence under Section  304A  and  that

punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC. This Court observed:

“47. Each case obviously has to be decided on its own facts.  In

a case where negligence or rashness is the cause  of  death  and

nothing more, Section 304A may be attracted but where  the  rash

or negligent act is preceded with the knowledge that such act is

likely to cause death, Section 304 Part II Indian Penal Code may

be attracted and if such a rash and negligent act is preceded by

real intention on the part of the wrong  doer  to  cause  death,

offence may be punishable under Section 302 Indian Penal Code.”

193.  This Court went on to hold that the accused in the  above  case  could

be said to have had the knowledge that his act of  reckless  driving  in  an

inebriated condition was likely to cause death. This Court observed:

“41. Rash or  negligent  driving  on  a  public  road  with  the

knowledge of the dangerous character and the  likely  effect  of

the act and resulting in death  may  fall  in  the  category  of

culpable homicide not amounting to murder. A  person,  doing  an

act of rash or negligent driving, if aware  of  a  risk  that  a

particular consequence is  likely  to  result  and  that  result

occurs, may be held guilty not only of the act but also  of  the

result. As a matter of law – in view of the  provisions  of  the

Indian Penal Code – the cases which fall within last  clause  of

Section 299 but not within clause ‘fourthly’ of  Section 300 may

cover the cases of rash or negligent act done with the knowledge

of the likelihood of its dangerous consequences and  may  entail

punishment  under  Section 304 Part  II   Indian   Penal   Code.

Section 304A Indian Penal Code takes out of its ambit the  cases

of death of any person  by  doing  any  rash  or  negligent  act

amounting to culpable homicide of either description.

xx xx xx

78. We have also carefully considered the  evidence  let  in  by

prosecution – the substance of which has been referred to  above

– and we find no justifiable ground to  take  a  view  different

from that of the High Court. We agree with  the  conclusions  of

the High Court and  have  no  hesitation  in  holding  that  the

evidence and materials on record prove beyond  reasonable  doubt

that the Appellant can be attributed with knowledge that his act

of driving the vehicle at a high speed in the rash or  negligent

manner was dangerous enough and he knew that  one  result  would

very likely be that people who were asleep on the  pavement  may

be   hit,   should   the   vehicle   go   out    of    control.”

(emphasis supplied)

194. In State through PS Lodhi Colony, New Delhi v. Sanjeev Nanda  (2012)  8

SCC 450, six bystanders were killed when  the  accused,  driving  recklessly

under the influence of alcohol ran them over. The accused was also shown  to

have gotten out of the vehicle after the incident,  inspected  the  gruesome

damage and thereafter driven away.  While  the  trial  Court  convicted  the

accused under Section 304 Part II, IPC, the Delhi  High  Court  altered  the

conviction to one under  Section  304A  on  the  ground  that  knowledge  of

causing death was not made out. This Court allowed the appeal  against  this

decision and held the offence of culpable homicide not amounting  to  murder

to have been made out. The reasoning behind the Court’s conclusion that  the

accused had the knowledge that death was likely to be caused  was  based  on

the facts of the case and the presumption that was drawn in Alister  Anthony

(supra)  against  drunken  drivers  in   hit   and   run   cases.     K.S.P.

Radhakrishnan, J. speaking for this Court observed as follows:

“The  principle  mentioned  by  this  Court  in Alister  Anthony

Pereira (supra) indicates that the person must  be  presumed  to

have had the knowledge that, his  act  of  driving  the  vehicle

without a licence in a high speed after consuming liquor  beyond

the permissible limit, is likely or sufficient in  the  ordinary

course of nature to cause death of the pedestrians on the  road.

In our view, Alister Anthony Pareira (supra) judgment calls  for

no reconsideration. Assuming that Shri Ram Jethmalani  is  right

in contending that while he was driving the vehicle in a drunken

state, he had no intention or  knowledge  that  his  action  was

likely to cause death of six  human  beings,  in  our  view,  at

least, immediately after having hit so many human beings and the

bodies scattered around, he had the knowledge  that  his  action

was likely to cause death of so many human beings, lying on  the

road unattended. To say, still he had  no  knowledge  about  his

action is too childish which no reasonable  man  can  accept  as

worthy of consideration. So far as this case  is  concerned,  it

has been brought out in evidence that  the  accused  was  in  an

inebriated state, after  consuming  excessive  alcohol,  he  was

driving the vehicle without licence, in  a  rash  and  negligent

manner in a high speed  which  resulted  in  the  death  of  six

persons. The accused had sufficient knowledge  that  his  action

was likely to cause death and such an action would, in the facts

and circumstances of this case fall under Section 304(II) of the

Indian Penal Code and the trial court has rightly  held  so  and

the High Court has committed an error in converting the  offence

to Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code.”

195. What emerges from the two cases referred to above is  that:

a. Each case must be decided on its own facts to determine whether  such

knowledge did in fact precede the rash/negligent act.

b. What converts a case apparently falling under Section 304A  into  one

under Section 304 Part II is  the  knowledge  that  the  act  is

likely to cause death”.

c.      Where the act which causes death is the act of driving a vehicle

in a rash and reckless  manner  and  in  an  inebriated  state  after

consuming liquor, the accused may be attributed  the  knowledge  that

such act was likely to cause death of others using the road.

196.  The decision  in  Alister  Anthony  Pereira’s  case  (supra)  or  that

delivered in Sanjeev Nanda’s case (supra) does not  lay  down  any  specific

test for determining whether the accused had the knowledge that his act  was

likely to cause death.  The decisions simply  accept  the  proposition  that

drunken driving in an inebriated  state,  under  the  influence  of  alcohol

would give rise  to  an  inference  that  the  person  so  driving  had  the

knowledge that his act was likely to cause death.   The  fact  situation  in

the case at hand is not comparable to  a  case  of  drunken  driving  in  an

inebriated state.  The case  at  hand  is  more  akin  on  facts  to  Keshub

Mahindra’s case (supra) where this  Court  was  dealing  with  the  question

whether a  case  under  Section  304  part  II  was  made  out  against  the

management of Union Carbide India Ltd., whose  negligence  had  resulted  in

highly toxic MIC gas escaping from the plant at Bhopal. The trial  Court  in

that case had framed a charge against the  management  of  the  company  for

commission of an offence under Section 304 Part II, IPC,  which  was  upheld

by the High Court in revision. This Court,  however,  set  aside  the  order

framing the charge under Section 304 Part II and directed  that  charges  be

framed under Section 304A, IPC instead. This Court observed:

“20…The entire material which the prosecution relied upon before

the Trail Court for framing the charge and to which we have made

a detailed reference earlier, in our view, cannot support such a

charge unless it indicates prima  facie  that  on  that  fateful

night when the plant was  run  at  Bhopal  it  was  run  by  the

concerned accused with the knowledge that such  running  of  the

plant was likely to cause deaths of human beings. It  cannot  be

disputed that mere act of running a plant as per the  permission

granted by the authorities would not be  a  criminal  act.  Even

assuming that it was a defective plant and it was dealing with a

very toxic and hazardous substance like  MIC  the  mere  act  of

storing such a material by the accused in Tank No. 610 could not

even prima facie suggest that the concerned accused thereby  had

knowledge that they were likely to cause death of human  beings.

In fairness to the prosecution it was not  suggested  and  could

not be suggested that the accused had an intention to  kill  any

human  being  while  operating  the  plant.  Similarly  on   the

aforesaid material placed on record it could not be  even  prima

facie suggested by the prosecution that any of the accused had a

knowledge that by operating the  plant  on  that  fateful  night

whereat such dangerous and highly volatile  substance  like  MIC

was stored they had the knowledge that by this very  act  itself

they were likely to cause death of any human being. Consequently

in our view taking entire material  as  aforesaid  on  its  face

value and assuming it to represent the correct factual  position

in connection with the operation of the plant at Bhopal on  that

fateful night it could not be said that the said  material  even

prima facie called for framing of a charge against the concerned

accused under Section 304 Part II, IPC on the specious plea that

the said act of the accused amounted to culpable  homicide  only

because the operation of the  plant  on  that  night  ultimately

resulted in deaths of a number of human beings and cattle…”

(emphasis supplied)

197.  At the same time, the Court held that there  was  enough  evidence  to

prima facie establish that the accused management had committed  an  offence

under  Section  304A  and  observed  that  the  evidence  assembled  by  the

prosecution  suggested  that  structural  and  operational  defects  in  the

working of the plant was the direct and proximate cause of death:

“21… It cannot be disputed that because of the operation of  the

defective plant  at  Bhopal  on  that  fateful  night  a  highly

dangerous and volatile substance like  MIC  got  converted  into

poisonous gas which snuffed off the lives of thousands of  human

beings and maimed other thousands and killed number  of  animals

and that all happened, as seen  at  least  prima  facie  by  the

material led by the prosecution on record, because of  rash  and

negligent act on the part of the accused who were  in-charge  of

the plant at  Bhopal.  Even  though,  therefore,  these  accused

cannot be charged for offences  under  Section 304 Part  II  the

material led against them by  the  prosecution  at  least  prima

facie showed that the accused were guilty of rash  or  negligent

acts not amounting to culpable homicide and by that  act  caused

death of large number of persons… In  this  connection  we  must

observe that the material led by the  prosecution  to  which  we

have made a detailed reference earlier prima  facie  shows  that

there were not only  structural  defects  but  even  operational

defects in the working of the plant on that fateful night  which

resulted into this grim tragedy. Consequently a prima facie case

is made out for framing charges under  Section 304A against  the

concerned accused…”

198.  It is noteworthy that an attempt was made by  the  CBI  and  State  of

Madhya Pradesh to have the above order recalled and set aside by  way  of  a

curative petition which failed with the dismissal of the petition by a five-

Judge Bench of this Court (See C.B.I. and Ors. etc. v. Keshub Mahindra  etc.

(2011) 6 SCC 216).

199.  We may at this stage refer to Section 464  of  the  Code  of  Criminal

Procedure which deals with the effect of the omission to  frame  or  absence

of, or error in the framing  of  charge  and  inter-alia  provides  that  no

finding, sentence or order by a Court of  competent  jurisdiction  shall  be

deemed invalid merely on the ground that no charge  was  framed  or  on  the

ground of any error, omission or irregularity in the  charge  including  any

misjoinder of charges, unless, in  the  opinion  of  the  Court  of  appeal,

confirmation or revision, a failure of justice has in fact  been  occasioned

thereby. It is only if the Court of appeal, confirmation or revision  is  of

opinion that a failure of justice has in fact been occasioned  that  it  may

in the case of an omission to frame a charge, order that a charge be  framed

and that the trial be recommenced  from  the  point  immediately  after  the

framing of the charge.  The omission to frame a  charge  is,  therefore,  by

itself not enough for the Court  of  appeal,  confirmation  or  revision  to

direct the framing of the charge.  What is essential for doing  so  is  that

the Court of appeal in revision or confirmation must  record  a  finding  to

the effect that failure of justice has in fact been  occasioned  on  account

of the non-framing of charge.

200.  The expression ‘failure of justice’ is  not  defined,  no  matter  the

expression is very often used in  the  realm  of  both  civil  and  criminal

jurisprudence. In Shamnsaheb M. Multtani v. State of Karnataka (2001) 2  SCC

577 this Court while dealing with that expression sounded a note of  caution

and described the expression as an etymological chameleon. That  simile  was

borrowed from Lord Diplock’s opinion in Town Investments Ltd. v.  Department

of the Environment 1977 (1) All E.R. 813. This Court held that the  criminal

court, particularly the superior court should make a  close  examination  to

ascertain whether there was really a failure of justice  or  whether  it  is

only a camouflage.

201. Mr. Tulsi, learned counsel for the victims’ association was  unable  to

satisfactorily demonstrate any failure of justice  not  only  because  there

was no evidence strongly suggestive of the accused persons  having  had  the

knowledge that their acts of omission and commission were  likely  to  cause

death but also because failure of justice cannot be viewed in isolation  and

independent of the prejudice that the accused persons may suffer on  account

of inordinate delay in the completion of the trial or what may  result  from

an indefinite procrastination of the matter by a remand to the trial  Court.

That speedy justice is a virtue recognised an integral  and  essential  part

of the fundamental right to life under Article 21  of  the  Constitution  is

well settled by a long line of decisions of this Court including the  three-

Judge Bench decision in Hussainara  Khatoon  and  Ors.  v.  Home  Secretary,

State of Bihar, Patna (1980) 1 SCC 81 reiterated in  A.R.  Antulay  v.  R.S.

Nayak (1992) 1 SCC 225. This Court in the latter case summed up  the  nature

of the prejudice  caused  to  an  accused  by  a  protracted  trial  in  the

following words:

“3. The concerns underlying the Right to speedy trial from  the

point of view of the accused are:

a) The period of remand and pre-conviction detention  should  be

as short as possible. In other words, the accused should  not

be subjected to  unnecessary  or  unduly  long  incarceration

prior to his conviction;

b) The worry, anxiety, expense and disturbance to  his  vocation

and peace, resulting from an unduly prolonged  investigation,

inquiry or trial should be minimal; and

c) Undue delay may well result in impairment of the  ability  of

the accused to defend himself, whether on account  of  death,

disappearance or non-availability of witnesses or otherwise”

202.  The Court undertook a comprehensive review of  the  earlier  decisions

in which a remand for a fresh trial was considered inappropriate and  unfair

to  the  accused  persons  having  regard  to  the  intervening  delay.  The

following passage is in this regard apposite:

“41. In Machander v. State of Hyderabad 1955  CriLJ  1644,  this

Court observed that while it is incumbent on the  court  to  see

that no guilty person escapes, it is still more its duty to  see

that  justice  is  not  delayed  and  accused  persons  are  not

indefinitely harassed. The scales, the court observed,  must  be

held even between the prosecution and the accused. In the  facts

of that case, the court refused to order trial on account of the

time already spent and  other  relevant  circumstances  of  that

case. In Veerbhadra v. Ramaswamy Naickar 1958 CriLJ  1565,  this

Court refused to  send  back  proceedings  on  the  ground  that

already a period of five years has elapsed and it would  not  be

just and proper in the circumstances of the case to continue the

proceedings after such a lapse of time. Similarly, in Chajju Ram

v. Radhey Sham [1971] S.C.R. 172, the court refused to direct  a

re-trial after a period of 10 years having regard to  the  facts

and circumstances of the case. In State  of  U.P.  v. Kapil  Deo

Shukla 1972 CriLJ 1214, though the court found the acquittal  of

the accused unsustainable, it  refused  to  order  a  remand  or

direct a trial after a lapse of 20 years.  It  is,  thus,  clear

that even apart from Article 21 courts in this country have been

cognizant of undue delays in criminal matters and wherever there

was inordinate delay or where the proceedings were  pending  for

too  long  and  any  further  proceedings  were  deemed  to   be

oppressive and unwarranted, they were put an end  to  by  making

appropriate orders.”

203.  In Machander’s case referred to in the above passage, this  Court  had

summed up the position as follows:

“…We are not prepared to keep persons who are on trial for their

lives under indefinite suspense because trial judges omit to  do

their duty. Justice is not one-sided. It has many facets and  we

have to draw a  nice  balance  between  conflicting  rights  and

duties. While it is incumbent on us to see that  the  guilty  do

not escape it is even more necessary to see that persons accused

of crime are not indefinitely harassed. They  must  be  given  a

fair and impartial trial and  while  every  reasonable  latitude

must be given to those concerned with the  detections  of  crime

and entrusted with the administration of justice, limits must be

placed on the lengths to which they may go.

Except in clear cases  of  guilt,  where  the  error  is  purely

technical, the forces  that  are  arrayed  against  the  accused

should no more be permitted in  special  appeal  to  repair  the

effects of their bungling than an accused should be permitted to

repairs gaps in his defence which he could  and  ought  to  have

made good in the lower courts. The scales  of  justice  must  be

kept on an even balance whether for the accused or against  him,

whether in favour of the State or not; and one broad  rule  must

apply in all cases…”

(emphasis supplied)

204.  So also in Ramaswamy Naickar’s case relied upon by this Court  in  the

above passage, a fresh inquiry into  the  complaint  after  five  years  was

considered inappropriate.  This Court observed:

“…But the question still remains whether, even after  expressing

our strong disagreement with the interpretation of  the  Section

by the courts below, this Court should direct a further  inquiry

into the complaint, which has stood dismissed for the last about

5 years. The action complained of against the  accused  persons,

if true, was foolish, to put it mildly,  but  as  the  case  has

become stale,  we  do  not  direct  further  inquiry  into  this

complaint. If there is a recurrence of such a foolish  behaviour

on the part of any Section of the community, we  have  no  doubt

that those charged with the duty of maintaining law  and  order,

will apply the law in the sense in which we have interpreted the

law. The appeal is therefore, dismissed…”

(emphasis supplied)

205.  To the  same  effect  is  the  decision  of  this  Court  in  Kantilal

Chandulal Mehta v. The State of Maharashtra and Anr. (1969) 3 SCC 166  where

this Court observed:

“…In our view the Criminal Procedure Code gives ample power  to

the courts to alter or amend a charge whether by the trial court

or by the appellate court provided that the accused has not face

a charge for a new  offence  or  is  not  prejudiced  either  by

keeping him in the dark about that charge or  in  not  giving  a

full opportunity of meeting it and putting forward  any  defence

open to him, on the charge finally preferred against him…”

206.  The incident in the case at hand occurred  about  16  years  ago.   To

frame a charge for a new offence and remand the matter back for the  accused

to face a prolonged trial again does not appear to us  to  be  a  reasonable

proposition. We say so independent of the  finding  that  we  have  recorded

that the fact situation the case at hand does not suggest that  the  accused

Ansal brothers or any one of them, had the  knowledge  that  their  acts  of

omission or commission was  likely  to  cause  death  of  any  human  being.

Question No.3 is accordingly answered in the negative.

Re: Question No.IV:

207.  We have, in the earlier part of  this  judgment,  while  dealing  with

Question No.I, examined the scope of criminal appeals by special  leave  and

observed that this Court may interfere in  such  appeals  only  where  wrong

inferences of law have been drawn from facts proved  before  the  Courts  or

where the conclusions drawn by the High Court are perverse and based  on  no

evidence whatsoever. The scope  of  interference  by  this  Court  with  the

quantum of punishment awarded by the High Court is  also  similarly  limited

to cases where the sentence awarded is manifestly inadequate and  where  the

Court considers such reduced punishment  to  be  tantamount  to  failure  of

justice. This can be best illustrated by reference to cases  in  which  this

Court has interfered to either enhance the punishment awarded  by  the  High

Court or remitted the matter back to the High Court for  a  fresh  order  on

the subject.

208.  In Sham Sunder v. Puran and Anr. (1990) 4 SCC 731, the High Court  had

converted a conviction for an  offence  under  Section  302  to  that  under

Section 304 Part I and reduced the sentence to the period already  undergone

(less than six months) where the accused had inflicted repeated  blows  with

a sharp-edged weapon on the chest of the deceased, and later on vital  parts

like the head, back and shoulders after he fell to the ground  in  a  sudden

fight. This Court found the reduced sentence imposed by the  High  Court  to

be grossly inadequate and held that it amounted to  a  failure  of  justice.

Enhancing the sentence to five years imprisonment, this Court observed:

“3. It is true that the High Court is entitled to reappraise the

evidence in the case. It is also true that  under  Article  136,

the Supreme Court does not ordinarily  reappraise  the  evidence

for itself for determining whether or not  the  High  Court  has

come to a correct conclusion on facts but where the  High  Court

has completely missed the real point requiring determination and

has also on erroneous  grounds  discredited  the  evidence…the

Supreme Court would be justified in going into the evidence  for

the purpose of satisfying itself that grave  injustice  has  not

resulted in the case.

xx xx xx

8. The High Court has  reduced  the  sentence  to  the  term  of

imprisonment already undergone while enhancing the fine.  It  is

pointed  out  that   the   respondents   have   undergone   only

imprisonment for a short period of less than six months and,  in

a  grave  crime  like  this,  the  sentence  awarded  is  rather

inadequate…The sentence imposed by the High Court  appears  to

be so grossly and entirely inadequate as to involve a failure of

justice. We are of opinion that to meet the ends of justice, the

sentence has to be enhanced.”

(emphasis supplied)

209.  In Deo Narain Mandal v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2004) 7 SCC  257,  the

trial  Court  had  awarded  a  maximum  sentence  of  two   years   rigorous

imprisonment for an offence punishable under  Section  365,  IPC.  The  High

Court reduced the sentence to the period undergone (forty  days).  A  three-

Judge Bench of this  Court  intervened  on  the  ground  that  the  sentence

awarded was wholly disproportionate to the crime and substituted a  sentence

of six months rigorous imprisonment. The Court held as follows:

“8. This brings us  to  the  next  question  in  regard  to  the

reduction of sentence made by the High Court. In criminal  cases

awarding of sentence is not a mere formality. Where the  statute

has given the court  a  choice  of  sentence  with  maximum  and

minimum limit presented then an element of discretion is  vested

with the court. This discretion cannot be exercised  arbitrarily

or whimsically.  It  will  have  to  be  exercised  taking  into

consideration the gravity of offence, the manner in which it  is

committed, the age, the sex of the accused, in other  words  the

sentence to be  awarded  will  have  to  be  considered  in  the

background of the fact of each case and the court while doing so

should bear  in  mind  the  principle  of  proportionality.  The

sentence  awarded  should  be  neither  excessively  harsh   nor

ridiculously low.

xx xx xx

10. The High Court in this case without even noticing  the  fact

what is the actual sentence undergone by the appellant  pursuant

to his conviction awarded by the Trial Court proceeded to reduce

the same to the period already undergone with an added sentences

of fine as stated above.  Of  course,  the  High  Court  by  the

impugned order recorded that the facts and circumstances of  the

case as well as age, character  and  other  antecedents  of  the

appellant which made the court feel that  the  ends  of  justice

would be met if the  sentence  is  reduced  and  modified.  This

conclusion of the High Court for reducing the  sentence  in  our

considered view is wholly disproportionate  to  the  offence  of

which the appellant is found guilty.

11…On facts and circumstances of this case, we must hold  that

sentence of 40 days for  an  offence  punishable  under  Section

365/511  read  with  Section  149  is  wholly   inadequate   and

disproportionate.

12. For the reasons stated above, we are of the opinion that the

judgment of the High  Court,  so  far  as  it  pertains  to  the

reduction of sentence awarded by the Trial Court will have to be

set aside.”

(emphasis supplied)

210.  Similarly in State of U.P. v. Shri  Kishan  (2005)  10  SCC  420  this

Court intervened when  a  sentence  of  seven  years  rigorous  imprisonment

awarded by the trial Court for an offence punishable under Section 304  Part

II, IPC was reduced by the High  Court  to  the  period  already  undergone,

without regard to the period actually served  by  the  accused.  This  Court

directed the High Court to re-hear the appeal on the  question  of  sentence

keeping in mind the principles on sentencing laid  down  by  this  Court  in

State of Madhya Pradesh  v.  Ghanshyam  Singh  (2003)  8  SCC  13  that  the

sentence must be proportionate to the offence committed and  sentence  ought

not to be reduced merely on account of long pendency of the matter.

211.  In State of M.P. v. Sangram and Ors. AIR  2006  SC  48  a  three-Judge

Bench of this Court  remanded  the  matter  to  the  High  Court  for  fresh

disposal without going into the merits of the case, when it found  that  the

High Court had reduced a sentence for an offence under Section 307 IPC  from

seven years rigorous imprisonment  to  the  period  already  undergone  (ten

months and five days) by a short and cryptic judgment:

“…Learned counsel for the appellant  has  submitted  that  the

sentence imposed by the High Court is wholly inadequate  looking

to the nature of the offence. The High Court  has  not  assigned

any satisfactory reason for reducing the sentence to  less  than

one year. That apart, the High Court has written  a  very  short

and cryptic judgment. To say the  least,  the  appeal  has  been

disposed of in a most unsatisfactory manner exhibiting  complete

non-application of mind. There is absolutely no consideration of

the evidence adduced by the parties…Since the judgment of  the

High Court is not in accordance with law, we have no option  but

to set aside the same and to remit the matter back to  the  High

Court for a fresh consideration of the appeal…”

212.  It is manifest from the above  that  while  exercising  extra-ordinary

jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution this Court has not  acted

like an ordinary Appellate Court but has confined its interference  only  to

such rarest  of  rare  situations  in  which  the  sentence  awarded  is  so

incommensurate with the gravity of the offence that it  amounts  to  failure

of justice. As a matter of fact in Deo Narain Mandal’s  case  (supra)  while

this Court found the sentence  awarded  to  be  wholly  disproportionate  to

gravity of the offence, this Court considered imprisonment for a  period  of

six months to be sufficient for an offence which is punishable by a  maximum

term of two years rigorous imprisonment.  Award  of  sentence  of  one  year

rigorous imprisonment for  an  offence  where  maximum  sentence  prescribed

extends to two years cannot, therefore, be said to  be  inadequate  to  call

for interference by this Court under Article 136 of the Constitution.

213.  Having said that  we  must  notice  certain  additional  and  peculiar

features of this case. First and  foremost  is  the  fact  that  Mr.  Salve,

learned counsel for CBI, did not, in the course  of  his  submissions,  urge

that the sentence awarded by the High Court to Ansals was  inadequate.  This

is in contrast to the grounds urged in the memo of appeal by the  CBI  where

the inadequacy of sentence  was  also  assailed.   In  the  absence  of  any

attempt leave alone a serious  one  by  the  State  acting  through  CBI  to

question the correctness of the view taken by the High Court on the  quantum

of sentence we would consider the ground taken in  the  memo  of  appeal  to

have been abandoned at the Bar.

214.  The second and an equally important  consideration  that  would  weigh

with any Court is the question of prolonged  trial  that  the  accused  have

faced and the delay of more than sixteen years  in  the  conclusion  of  the

proceedings against them. We have in the earlier part of our order  referred

to the decision of a three-Judge Bench of this Court in  Hussainara  Khatoon

case (supra) where this Court declared the  right  to  speedy  trial  to  be

implicit in Article 21 of the Constitution.  Such being the case  delay  has

been often made a basis  for  the  award  of  a  reduced  sentence,  as  for

instance in Balaram Swain v. State of Orissa 1991  Supp  (1)  SCC  510  this

Court reduced the sentence  from  one  year  rigorous  imprisonment  to  the

period undergone (less than six months) on  the  ground  that  there  was  a

delay  of  twenty  three  years  involving  long  mental  agony  and   heavy

expenditure for the accused. So also in M.O. Shamsudhin v. State  of  Kerala

(1995) 3 SCC 351 sentence was reduced by this Court from two years  rigorous

imprisonment to the period undergone on the ground of delay of eight  years.

There is no reason why in the case at hand the delayed  conclusion  of  the

proceedings should not have been taken by the High Court  as  a  ground  for

reduced sentence of one year.

215.  The third circumstance which dissuades us from  interfering  with  the

sentence awarded by the High Court is the  fact  that  the  appellant-Ansals

did not have any criminal background and are  both  senior  citizens,  whose

company has already been adjudged liable to pay compensation to the  victims

besides punitive damages awarded against them. This Court has in MCD,  Delhi

v. AVUT (supra) arising out of a writ petition seeking compensation for  the

victims and their families awarded compensation @ Rs.10 lakhs  in  the  case

of death of those aged more than 20 years and  7.5  lakhs  in  the  case  of

those aged 20 years and less besides compensation  of  Rs.1  lakh  to  those

injured in the incident with interest @ 9%  p.a.  and  punitive  damages  of

Rs.25 lakhs. There is no dispute that the amount awarded by the  High  Court

has been deposited by the  Ansal  Theaters  &  Clubotels  (P)  Ltd.  in  the

proportion in which the claim has been awarded. The  award  so  made  is  in

tune with the spirit of the view taken  by  this  Court  in  Ankush  Shivaji

Gaikwad v. State of Maharashtra (2013) 6 SCC 770 where this  Court  noted  a

global paradigm shift away from retributive justice towards  victimology  or

restitution in criminal law.  There is no gainsaying that in the absence  of

the order passed by this Court in MCD, Delhi v. AVUT (supra),  we  may  have

ourselves determined the compensation payable to  the  victims  and  awarded

the same against Ansal brothers. Any such exercise is  rendered  unnecessary

by the said decision especially because a  reading  of  sub-section  (5)  of

Section 357 of the Cr.P.C. makes it manifest that compensation awarded by  a

Criminal Court under Section 357 cannot be more than the  sum  that  may  be

payable or recovered as  compensation  in  a  subsequent  civil  suit.  That

provision was interpreted by this Court  in  Dilip  S.  Dahanukar  v.  Kotak

Mahindra Co. Ltd. (2007) 6 SCC 528 to hold that the amount  of  compensation

under Section 357 should ordinarily be less than the  amount  which  can  be

granted by a civil Court upon appreciation of the  evidence  brought  before

it for losses that it may have reasonably suffered.

216.  For all that we have stated above we do  not  see  any  merit  in  the

contention of Mr. Tulsi that the punishment awarded to  the  Ansal  brothers

ought to be enhanced either because there is an allegation against them  for

tampering with the Court’s record or because there is  a  complaint  pending

against them before the learned ACMM in which Ansal brothers  and  their  so

called henchmen  are  accused  of  having  intimidated  and  threatened  the

President of the Victims’ Association. There  is  no  gainsaying  that  both

these matters are pending adjudication by the competent criminal  Court  and

any observation as to the truthfulness of the allegations made therein  will

not only be inappropriate but also prejudicial to one or  the  other  party.

So also the argument that the Ansal brothers having persistently lied  about

their association with the company does not, in our  opinion,  outweigh  the

considerations that we have indicated hereinabove while upholding  the  view

taken by the High Court on the question  of  sentence.  We  need  to  remind

ourselves that award of punishment in a case where guilt of the  accused  is

proved, is as serious and important a matter  as  the  forensic  process  of

reasoning by which the presumption of innocence is rebutted and the  accused

pronounced guilty. Like the former the latter also needs  to  be  guided  by

sound  logic  uninfluenced  by  any  emotional  or  impulsive  outburst   or

misplaced sympathy that more often than not manifests itself in the form  of

a  sentence  that  is  either  much  too  heavy  and  oppressive  or  wholly

incommensurate considering the gravity  of  the  offence  committed.  Courts

have to avoid such extremities in their approach especially where  there  is

no legislative compulsion  or  statutory  prescription  in  the  form  of  a

minimum sentence for an offence. The Courts do well to avoid the  Shylockian

heartlessness in demanding the proverbial pound of flesh.  Justice  tempered

by mercy is what the Courts of law administer  even  to  the  most  hardened

criminals.   A spine- chilling sentence may be the cry  of  those  who  have

suffered the crime or its aftermath but Courts are duty bound  to  hold  the

scales of justice even by examining the adequacy of punishment in each  case

having regard to the peculiar facts in which the offence was  committed  and

the demands of justice by retribution within permissible limits. Absence  of

a uniform sentencing policy may often make any such endeavour difficult  but

the Courts do, as they  ought  to,  whatever  is  fair  and  reasonable  the

difficulties, besetting that exercise notwithstanding.

217.   Question   No.IV   is   accordingly   answered   in   the   negative.

Re: Question No.V:

218.  Adherence to safety standards in cinema theatres  and  multiplexes  in

India is the key to the prevention of tragedies like the one in the  instant

case. The misfortune, however, is that those concerned with the  enforcement

of such standards often turn a blind eye to the violations, in  the  process

endangering the lives of those who frequent such places. While the  case  at

hand may be an eye-opener for such of them  as  are  remiss  in  their  duty

towards  the  public  visiting  cinema   theatres   and   multiplexes,   the

authorities concerned cannot afford to let their guard  down.   As  seen  in

the  earlier  part  of  this  order,  there  are  both  civil  and  criminal

liabilities that arise out of any such neglect. Those who commit  violations

of the same are accountable before law and  may  eventually  come  to  grief

should an incident occur resulting in injury or  loss  of  human  lives.  We

would have in the ordinary course issued directions to  the  authorities  to

take corrective steps, but for the fact that such  directions  have  already

been issued by a coordinate Bench while dealing with claims for  payment  of

compensation made by the legal heirs of those who died and others  who  were

injured in the incident.  This Court has in the said decision observed:

“45. While affirming the several suggestions by the High  Court,

we  add  the  following  suggestions  to  the   government   for

consideration and implementation:

(i) Every licensee (cinema theatre) shall be required to draw up

an  emergency  evacuation  plan  and  get  it  approved  by  the

licensing authority.

(ii) Every cinema theatre shall be required to  screen  a  short

documentary during  every  show  showing  the  exits,  emergency

escape routes and instructions as to what to do and what not  to

do in the case of fire or other hazards.

(iii) The staff/ushers in every cinema theatre should be trained

in fire drills and evacuation procedures to provide  support  to

the patrons in case of fire or other calamity.

(iv) While the  theatres  are  entitled  to  regulate  the  exit

through doors other than the entry door, under no circumstances,

the entry door (which can act as an emergency exit) in the event

of fire or other emergency) should be bolted  from  outside.  At

the end of the show, the ushers may request the patrons  to  use

the exit doors by placing a temporary barrier across  the  entry

gate which should be easily movable.

(v) There should be mandatory half yearly inspections of  cinema

theatres by a senior  officer  from  the  Delhi  Fire  Services,

Electrical Inspectorate and the Licensing  Authority  to  verify

whether the electrical installations  and  safety  measures  are

properly functioning and take action wherever necessary.

(vi) As the cinema theatres have undergone a change in the  last

decade with more and more multiplexes coming up, separate  rules

should be made for  Multiplex  Cinemas  whose  requirements  and

concerns are different from stand-alone cinema theatres.

(vii) An endeavour should be made to have a single  point  nodal

agency/licensing authority consisting of experts  in  structural

Engineering/building, fire prevention, electrical  systems  etc.

The existing  system  of  police  granting  licences  should  be

abolished.

(viii) Each cinema theatre, whether it is a multiplex or  stand-

alone theatre should be given a fire safety rating by  the  Fire

Services  which  can  be  in  green  (fully  compliant),  yellow

(satisfactorily compliant), red (poor  compliance).  The  rating

should be prominently displayed in each theatre so that there is

awareness among the patrons and the building owners.

(ix) The Delhi Disaster Management Authority, established by the

Government of NCT of Delhi may expeditiously evolve standards to

manage  the  disasters  relating  to  cinema  theatres  and  the

guidelines in regard to  ex  gratia  assistance.  It  should  be

directed to conduct mock drills in each cinema theatre at  least

once in a year.”

219.  We had in the light of the above passed an order  in  Criminal  Appeal

No.603 of 2010 directing the concerned to file a status  report  as  to  the

steps taken pursuant to the above directions. We regret to say that  nothing

much appears to have happened since the issue of  the  directions  extracted

above. This would  have  called  for  monitoring  of  the  steps  which  the

authorities concerned were directed to take,  but  any  such  process  would

have further delayed the pronouncement of this order.  We  have,  therefore,

decided against that course. We all the same leave it open to  the  Victims’

Association or any other public spirited person to  seek  implementation  of

the said directions in appropriate proceedings.

220.  Question No. V is answered accordingly.

221.  In the result :

i) Criminal Appeals No.597 of 2010 and 598 of  2010  filed  by  Sushil

Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2) respectively are hereby dismissed

upholding the conviction and sentences awarded to them.

ii) Criminal Appeal No.599 of 2010 filed by  Divisional  Fire  Officer,

H.S. Panwar (A-15) is also dismissed upholding his  conviction  and

sentence.

iii) Criminal Appeal No.617-627 of 2010 and  No.604  of  2010  filed  by

D.V.B. Inspector B.M. Satija (A-9) and Senior Fitter Bir Singh  (A-

11) are partly allowed to the extent that  the  conviction  of  the

said two appellants is altered to Sections 337 and  338  read  with

Section 36 IPC without interference with the  sentence  awarded  to

them.

iv) Criminal Appeal No.605-616 of 2010 filed by CBI and Criminal Appeal

No.600-602 of 2010 filed by the Association of  Victims  of  Uphaar

Tragedy are dismissed.

222.  Appellants Sushil Ansal (A-1), Gopal Ansal (A-2) and H.S.  Panwar  (A-

15) are on bail. They are granted three weeks  time  to  surrender,  failing

which  the  Trial  Court  shall  take  appropriate  steps  for  having  them

apprehended and committed to jail for  undergoing  the  remainder  of  their

sentences.

.………………….……….…..…J.

(T.S. THAKUR)

March 5, 2014

IN THE SUPREME COURT  OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELALTE JURISDICTION

CRIMINAL  APPEAL NOs. 605-616/2010

STATE THROUGH CBI                                 .. Appellant

Versus

SUSHIL ANSAL & ORS. ETC.                            ..Respondents

WITH

CRIMINAL  APPEAL NOs. 600-602/2010

ASSOCIATION OF VICTIMS OF UPHAAR TRAGEDY  .Appellant

Versus

SUSHIL ANSAL & ANR.                               ..Respondents

J U D G M E N T

GYAN SUDHA MISRA, J.

1.          Having had the benefit of the views and reasonings  assigned  in

the judgment and order of Hon’ble Justice T.S. Thakur, I entirely agree  and

hence concur with the findings recorded therein which are  based  on  an  in

depth analysis and meticulous scrutiny of evidence led  by  the  prosecution

as also the accused appellants therein.  Hence, I approve of the  conviction

of the accused appellants under Sections 304A, 337, 338  read  with  Section

36 of the Indian Penal Code (‘IPC’ for short) and Section 14 of  the  Indian

Cinematograph Act, 1952.

2.          However, when  it  comes  to  determination  and  imposition  of

sentence on the appellants due to their gross criminal  negligence,  I  find

it difficult  to  be  unmindful  or  ignore  that  this  country   and  more

particularly the capital city of Delhi was shocked  and shaken to  the  core

16 years ago by the magnitude and disastrous  incident which took  place  on

13.6.1997 in a cinema house now widely known as  Uphaar  Tragedy  which  had

virtually turned the cinema house  into a pitch   dark gas chamber   wherein

the  cinema viewers were initially trapped due to lack of  sufficient  space

and light for exit from the cinema hall and finally 59  persons  lost  their

lives due to asphyxiation in the  catastrophe which is perhaps  unparalleled

in the history of the city of  Delhi.  This tragic incident happened due  to

grave lapse on  the  part  of  the  appellants/respondents  in  the  instant

appeals preferred by the AVUT and the CBI, who  have  been  held  guilty  of

gross criminal negligence concurrently by  the  Trial  Court  and  the  High

Court which are now being approved by us in these appeals.

3.          The appellants Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal in  Criminal  Appeal

No. 597 of 2010 and Criminal Appeal No.598  of  2010,  therefore,  had  been

charged and convicted for  an offence under  Section  304A,  337,  338  read

with Section 36 I.P.C. and Section 14 of the  Cinematograph  Act,  1952  and

sentenced to  undergo  imprisonment  for  two  years  by  the  trial  court.

Similarly, the appellants in Criminal Appeal No.599  of  2010  and  Criminal

Appeal No.617 to 627 of 2010 and Criminal Appeal No.604  of  2010  preferred

by the Divisional Fire Officer H.S. Panwar  and  Officers  of  Delhi  Vidyut

Board (shortly referred to as ‘DVB’) were also convicted  and  sentenced  to

terms of imprisonment specified in the impugned judgment and  order  of  the

High Court of Delhi. On appeal, however, the High Court although upheld  the

conviction of the appellants/respondents herein under the sections  referred

to hereinbefore, was pleased to reduce the sentence of two  years  into  one

year  but the appellants/respondents herein have still preferred a batch  of

appeals in this Court challenging their conviction and sentence  on  several

grounds.

4.          Learned Justice T.S. Thakur in the  accompanying   judgment  and

order has already  dealt  with  the  matter  in  extensive  detail  and  has

recorded a finding upholding their conviction  and  sentence  under  Section

304A alongwith the other Sections.  I fully  endorse  the  same   and  hence

uphold the conviction of the appellants under Section 304A,  337,  338  read

with Section 36 of the IPC and Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

5.          But with regard to the question of sentence,  it  may  be  noted

that the trial court  had convicted the appellants and  sentenced   them  to

imprisonment for two years which has been reduced  by   the  High  Court  to

one year only in spite of the  fact  that the High  Court  also  upheld  the

findings of  the trial court on the charge under Section   304A   and  other

allied sections  referred to  hereinbefore.   However,  the  High  Court  in

spite of its finding highlighting the magnitude and gravity of the   offence

committed by the appellants has simply observed that  the  maximum  sentence

of two years under Section 304A is fit to be reduced  to  a  period  of  one

year  only  for    which   no   specific    reason    much    less    cogent

and   convincing   has been assigned as to why  in the wake of

the finding upholding the charge and  conviction  under  Section  304A  IPC,

should not have upheld and maximum sentence of two  years  and  whether  the

same was fit to be reduced to a  period  of  one  year  only.   But,  before

dealing with the question of quantum and sufficiency of  punishment  imposed

on the appellant, I deem it appropriate   to  take  into  consideration  the

appeal filed by the appellant-Association  for  victims  of  Uphaar  Tragedy

(shortly referred to as ‘the AVUT’) bearing Criminal Appeal  No.600-602/2010

filed by the AVUT in a representative capacity for  the  victims  of  Uphaar

Tragedy as also the appeal filed by the C.B.I.  bearing  No.605  to  616  of

2010.

6.          Learned Senior Counsel  Mr.  K.T.S.  Tulsi  in  support  of  the

appeal  preferred by the AVUT had initially  challenged  the  charge  framed

against the accused appellants under Section 304A  and  had  contended  that

the charge was fit to be converted  under  Section  304  Part  II  IPC.   On

perusal of  the  findings,  views  and  observations  as  also  the  reasons

assigned therein by Hon’ble Thakur, J.,  I entirely agree  that  after  more

than 16 years  of the incident, it would not be  just  and  appropriate   to

remand the matter back to  the  trial  court   to  consider  converting  the

charge from Section 304A to 304 IPC so that the accused may  face  prolonged

trial all over again as  I am   also  equally   of    the   view   that   it

would  not  be   reasonable or a just proposition and the correct course  of

action to adopt.  However,  this  does  not  deter  me  from  accepting  the

contention  of the counsel for the AVUT that even if this  Court   considers

that at this  length  of time from the date  of   the  incident  ordering  a

fresh trail  may not be  in the larger public interest, it would  not  be  a

reason to refuse to  consider  whether   accused-appellants   deserved   the

maximum sentence permissible under Section 304A IPC in spite of the  gravity

of charge and conviction which we have upheld.

7.          In order to consider this  crucial  aspect  of  the  matter,  it

would be  necessary to recollect and refer to the findings recorded  by  the

trial court and the High Court approved by us which learned  Thakur  J.  has

analyzed in great detail holding that the  death  of  59  innocent   persons

are directly relatable to the rash and  negligent   acts  of  omissions  and

commissions of the accused persons which  were  performed  with  such  gross

negligence  and  indifference which clearly  amounts  to  culpable  criminal

negligence and failure to exercise  reasonable and proper  care  in  running

the cinema shows in their theatre namely Uphaar  and  the  failure   of  the

accused-appellants to perform the imperative  duties   cast  upon  them   by

statutory rules, which  were  sufficient   to  establish  culpable  criminal

rashness and it further establishes that they acted with  consciousness  and

the requisite knowledge  as to the consequence   of their acts of  omissions

and commissions.   Death of innocent persons is thus  not  only  contributed

by the actions  of the accused-appellants  but is  directly   relatable   to

the overt acts and conscious omissions  performed by them.   Hence, I  fully

agree with the views of learned Brother Justice Thakur that  the  degree  of

care expected from an  occupier/owner   of  a  place  which  is   frequented

everyday  by hundreds if not thousands   is very high in comparison  to  any

other  place that is less frequented  or more  sparingly   used  for  public

functions.  It is also equally true and I agree that the higher  the  number

of visitors to a place and  greater  the  frequency  of   such  visits,  the

degree of care required to be observed  for  their  safety  is  higher.   I,

therefore, endorse the findings  recorded by Thakur J.,  that judged in  the

above backdrop, it is evident that the occupiers/appellants in  the  present

case had showed scant regard both for the  letter of law as  also  the  duty

under the common law to care for the  safety  of  their  patrons.    I  also

further  agree  with  the  view  that  the  occupiers  not  only   committed

deviations from the sanctioned building plan that  heightened  the  risk  to

the  safety  of  the  visitors  but  continued  to  operate  the  cinema  in

contemptuous  disregard for the requirements  of law   and  in  the  process

exposed the  cine goers to a  high degree of risk to their lives which  some

of them  eventually  lost in the incident  in question.

8.          Far from taking any additional care towards the  safety  of  the

visitors to the cinema,  the  occupiers    asked  for  permission  to  place

additional seats that further  compromised   with  the  safety  requirements

and raised the level of risks to the  patrons.  There is much substance   in

the view taken  that the history of litigation  between  the  occupiers   on

the one hand and the government on the other regarding  the removal of   the

additional seats permitted and their  opposition to the  concerns  expressed

by the authorities  on account of  increased  fire  hazards  as  also  their

insistence  that the addition or continuance of the seats would  not  affect

the safety requirements of the patrons/cine goers clearly  showed  that  the

owner of the cinema house  were more  concerned  with making a  little  more

profit  out of  the few additional seats that  were added to the  cinema  in

the balcony rather than maintaining the  required  standards  of  safety  in

discharge   of the common law duty but also under  the  provisions   of  the

Delhi Cinematograph Rules,1953 (for short ‘DCR  1953’).

9.          It is no doubt true which was  urged  on   behalf   of  accused-

appellants that the incident in question  which  resulted  in  death  of  59

persons in the fire that broke out was caused  by  the  fire  which  started

from  the Delhi Vidyut Board Transformer which  was  poorly  maintained  and

shabbily repaired by the  Delhi Vidyut Board officials  in  the  morning  of

13th June, 1997.  It was urged that the  causa causans  i.e.  the  cause  of

all causes for the loss of human lives thus was the transformer that  caught

fire because of the negligence of the DVB officials  who did not  even  have

a crimping  machine to repair the transformer properly.  The absence of  oil

soaking  pit in the transformer room was also  a  reason  for  the   oil  to

spill  out from the transformer room to spread   the  fire  to  the  parking

area from where smoke   containing  lethal carbon monoxide rose, and due  to

chimney effect , entered the hall to cause asphyxiation to those inside  the

balcony.   It   was,  therefore,   urged  on   behalf   of   the    accused-

appellants/cinema house owners that there was no  evidence  that  any  death

had taken place inside the balcony which proved that most  if  not  all  the

patrons sitting in the balcony had  exited   from  that  area  but  died  on

account of the  poisonous  effect of the gas enough  to  kill   human  being

within minutes      of exposure.   Placing reliance  on  the  ratio  of  the

decision of this Court in the  case of  Kurban Hussein’s  case  reported  in

1965 (2) SCR 622, it was no doubt submitted that the  causa  causans      in

the case at hand was the fire in the DVB transformer  and  not  the  alleged

deviations  in  the  building  plan  or  the  sitting  arrangements  or  the

obstructions in the  stair case that  led out of  the cinema precincts.

10.         In fact, learned counsel representing the CBI Mr.  Harish  Salve

and the counsel representing AVUT Mr. KTS Tulsi  accepted the position  that

while there was no quarrel  with the proposition that  death must  be  shown

to have occurred  as a direct, immediate or proximate  result of the act  of

rashness or negligence, it was not  correct to say that the deaths  in  this

case had occurred merely because of the fire in the transformer.   In  fact,

failure of the victims to rapidly exit from the smoke filled  atmosphere  in

the  balcony area  because of the obstructions  and  deviations   proved  at

the trial  was the real, direct   and immediate cause for the  death of  the

victims in the instant case  who would have safely  escaped  the   poisonous

carbon monoxide  gas only if there were proper  gangways,  exits,  emergency

lights  and  alarm  system  in  working  condition  and   human   assistance

available to those trapped  inside the  hall.  I see no reason to differ  or

disagree with this finding  so as to take a different view  from  what   has

been taken by Hon’ble Justice Thakur who has  upheld  the  findings  of  the

trial court and the High Court on these aspects.

11.         Thus there appears to be  two features  in  this  context  which

need to be addressed and the  first  one    is  that   the  victims  in  the

present case did not die of burn injuries but all of them  died  because  of

asphyxiation  on account of  prolonged exposure  to  poisonous  gases   that

filled the cinema hall including the balcony area.  Whatever may  have  been

the source of  fire  as to whether it was caused by the DVB  transformer  or

otherwise, the causa  sine quo non  was that there would have been no  smoke

possible without fire; the proximate cause  was the smoke  in  the  balcony

area. Had there been no smoke in the balcony area, there would have been  no

casualties; that is not however the same thing  as saying  that it  was  the

fire or the resultant smoke that was causa causans.   In fact  it  was   the

inability of the  victims  to move out of the smoke filled  area  which  was

the direct cause of their  death.   Placed  in  a  smoke  filled  atmosphere

anyone  would  distinctively  try  to  escape  from  it   to  save  himself.

Therefore, if such escapes were delayed or prevented,   the   causa  causans

for death was not the smoke but  the  factors that prevented or delayed  the

escape  of   cine  goers from the

smoke filled area which was the cinema house  which got  converted  into   a

gas chamber.

12.         I find sufficient substance and force and hence agree  with  the

view taken  by  Hon’ble   Justice  Thakur   that  even  if  there  had  been

adequate number of exits, gangways  and   all  other  safety  measures    in

place  but the exits had been locked preventing people from   escaping,  the

cause of  death in such event would be the act of   preventing  people  from

fleeing/exiting  from the smoke filled hall which   may  be  depending  upon

whether  the act was deliberately intended to cause death or unintended  due

to negligence amounting  to culpable homicide   amounting  to  murder  which

was an act of  gross  negligence   punishable   under  Section  304  A.   An

hypothetical  case  has rightly  been  relied  upon  to   infer  that  where

instead of  four exits required  under the relevant rules, the  owner  of  a

cinema had provided only one exit, that would  have  prevented  the  patrons

from moving  out of the  hall rapidly from  the  smoke   filled  atmosphere.

Thus, the cause of all causes termed as  ‘causa  causans’     would  be  the

negligent act of providing  only one exit instead of four required  for  the

purpose.  In such an eventuality, it would make  no difference  whether  the

fire had started from a source within the  cinema  complex  or  outside   or

whether the  occupiers of the cinema  were  responsible   for  the  fire  or

someone else.  Thus if failure  to exit was the  immediate  cause  of  death

which is the view  taken by  learned Justice Thakur and I  agree,  that  the

same would constitute the causa causans  and  hence  I  see  no   reason  to

deviate from the  view taken as  I find  sufficient   substance   and  force

in the view that the smoke entered  the cinema hall   and  the  balcony  but

escape was prevented  or at least delayed  because of breach  of the  common

law and statutory duty to care.  Reference of the citations  on  this  point

relied upon by Justice  Thakur   in  the  accompanying  judgment  needs   no

further reiteration  which  has   been   amply  discussed  at  great  length

therein.

13.         The defence no doubt has relied  upon the principle of   benefit

of penal immunity that if the  person  doing  an  act  is  acting   under  a

mistake of fact and the person doing the act in good faith believes  himself

to be justified  by  law  in  doing  it,  then  he  would  be  entitled  to

protection under Section 52 of the IPC which states “that  nothing  is  said

to  be done or  believed in “good faith” which is done or  believed  without

due care and attention” would incur penal consequences.

14.         The use of expression “good faith” in this  context  necessarily

brings in the question whether the person concerned had acted with due  care

and caution.  If they had not, part (b) of  Section 79  IPC  would  have  no

application to the case.  In this context, it is difficult to  overlook  the

evidence addressed  by  the  prosecution/C.B.I.   Thus  the  view  taken  by

Justice Thakur that due care  for the safety of the  patrons was  cast  upon

the two appellants Ansal Brothers  fell  upon  them  which  they  failed  to

comply as the evidence adduced at the  trial  and  the  concurrent  findings

recorded by  the courts below  have established the breach of  the  duty  in

several respects which include  absence of any   public  address  system  to

warn the viewers of the cinema inside the cinema hall in the  event  of  any

emergency which was a part of the duty to care which  was  grossly  breached

by the occupiers/appellants herein. This duty was  a  continuing  obligation

and  had  to  be  strictly  discharged  in  respect  of   each  cinema  show

conducted in the theatre.  The grant of license   or  its  renewal   by  the

licensing  authority  did not  in any manner relieve the occupiers  of  that

obligation.  Similarly, the requirement that the cinema house must have  had

emergency lights, fire extinguishers  and  that  the  occupiers   must  have

provided help to the viewers  in  case  of  any  emergency  ensuring   rapid

dispersal  from the enclosed area,  were  obligations  which  were  implicit

in the  issuance and renewal of  cinematograph  license.     Breach  of  all

these obligations  could not be justified  on the  ground   that  a  license

was granted or renewed in favour of the owners/licensee and no matter  what,

the duty to care towards  the safety of the  patrons was grossly   neglected

by the theatre  owners/ the accused appellants.  Failures  in the event   of

mishap like the one  at hand on account  of  the  occupiers   to  discharge

their legal obligations to take care for the safety  of  the  patrons   thus

cannot be held to be  immune

from  prosecution simply because a license  to   exhibit   the   films  had

been granted or renewed from time to time.   The test of  ordinary  prudence

applied to  such proved  attendant circumstances thus can  help  the   court

to determine  whether  an act or omission was in good faith or otherwise.

15.         Thus, the finding recorded in the judgment by Thakur J., to  the

effect that the fundamental   obligation and  duty  to  care  at  all  times

rested with the occupiers of the cinema house and the  licensee  thereof  is

fit to be upheld.  In discharge   of  the  duty  the  appellants/owners  are

surely not entitled to  argue that   so long as there  was  a  license    in

their favour, they would not be  accountable for the loss of  life  or  limb

of anyone  qua  whom the occupiers/owners owed that duty.  The duty to  care

for the safety of the   cine  goers   even   independent  of  the  statutory

additions made to the same , required the occupiers to take all  such  steps

and measures which would have ensured  quick dispersal    from  the   cinema

building   of all the viewers inside  the  premises  in  the  event  of   an

emergency.  But apart from that, a sitting plan which was in breach  of  the

statutory provisions and  compromised  the  safety  requirement   prescribed

under the DCR 1953,  could hardly support  a  belief   in  good  faith  that

exhibition of films with such a plan was  legally  justified.   That  is  so

especially  when the  repeal of notification dated 30th September   1976  by

which Uphaar was permitted 100 more seats was   followed  by  a  demand  for

removal of the additional seats.  Instead of doing so the  appellants/owners

challenged that demand  in a writ petition before the High Court  of  Delhi

in which the High Court  directed the authorities   to  have  a  fresh  look

from the standpoint of substantial compliance   of  the  provisions  of  the

Cinematograph Act. The High Court observed and directed  the  administration

to apply their mind  to the additional seats with a view to determine  which

of them  have contravened which rules  and to what extent.  It was  observed

that compliance with the rule were to be substantial   and  not   rigid  and

inflexible.  If while carrying out  the  above  directive,  the  authorities

concerned  turned a blind  eye   to  the   fundamentals  of  the  rules   by

ignoring  the closure of the right side exit and gangway prescribed  as   an

essential requirement under DCR 1953, they acted in breach of the rules  and

in the  process endangered the  safety  of  the  cinema  viewers.       The

cinema      owners had opposed the  removal of  the  additional  seats  even

when  the   respondent-authorities   in  the  writ  petition  had  expressed

concerns  about the  safety of the patrons if  the  additional   seats  were

not  removed which removal would  have by itself   resulted  in  restoration

of the  right side gangway.   However, the authorities also  ought  to  have

insisted on the restoration of the right side exit  by removal of the  eight

seaters box  which was allowed  in the year  1978  ostensibly  because  with

the right side gangway getting closed by additional  seats  occupying   that

space, the authorities  considered the continuance of the  right  side  exit

to be of no  practical use.

16.         In the wake of the aforesaid concurrent findings,  the  question

looms  large as to why the  High  Court   interfered  with  the  quantum  of

punishment imposed by the trial court which had  awarded a sentence  of  two

years  to the accused  appellants  but was reduced by the High Court   to  a

period of one year without any reason as I cannot be unmindful of the  legal

position that the scope  of  interference on the  question of  sentence  and

with the quantum of  punishment awarded by the High  Court   is  undoubtedly

limited  to cases where  the  sentence  imposed  is  manifestly   inadequate

and which the  Court considers such reduced punishment  tantamount   to   no

punishment or illusory.

17.         On a perusal  of the ratios of cases referred to  on this  point

specially in the matter of  Sham Sunder vs.  Puran and Anr.   (1990)  4  SCC

731, it has been held  that in a case where  the  sentence  imposed  by  the

High Court appears to be so grossly and  entirely inadequate as to   involve

a failure  of  justice,  this Court would be justified in  interfering  and

enhancing the sentence and hence the period undergone awarded  by  the  High

Court was increased to a period of five years in a case  under  Section  304

Part I IPC considering the nature of offence committed  by  the  accused  as

this Court  has unequivocally held that  in  criminal  cases,   awarding  of

sentence is not  a mere formality and whenever this Court  is  of  the  view

that the sentence awarded is wholly   disproportionate  to  the  crime,   it

would be justified in substituting it with a sentence of higher degree   and

quantum.

18.         It has been held that where the statute has given  the  Court  a

choice of sentence  with maximum and minimum limit presented, an element  of

discretion is surely vested with the court  but this  discretion  cannot  be

exercised arbitrarily  or  whimsically.    It  will  have  to  be  exercised

taking into consideration  the gravity  of offence, the manner in which   it

is committed, the age, the sex  of the accused, in other words the  sentence

to be awarded will have to be  considered   in the background  of  the  fact

of each case and the Court  while  doing  so   should  bear  in   mind   the

principle of proportionality that the sentence  awarded  should  be  neither

excessively harsh nor ridiculously  low.   This was the view expressed by  a

three Judge Bench of this Court  delivered in  the  matter  of   Deo  Narain

Mandal vs. State of U.P.  (2004) 7 SCC 257, wherein  the  trial  court   had

awarded   a maximum sentence of two years R.I. for an  offence    punishable

under Section 365 IPC but the  High  Court   reduced  the  sentence  to  the

period undergone (40  days).    A  bench  of  three  Judges  of  this  Court

intervened in the matter on the ground that the sentence awarded was  wholly

disproportionate to the crime  and  hence  substituted  a  sentence  of  six

months R.I.   Similarly, the ratio of the  cases  already  referred  to   by

Justice Thakur   in his judgment   viz.   State  of  U.P.  vs.  Shri  Kishan

(2005) 10 SCC 420;  State of M.P. vs.  Ghanshaym Singh (2003) 8 SCC  13  and

State of M.P. vs.  Sangaram  and Ors. AIR 2006 SC  48   unequivocally   have

laid down that  where  sentence  is  wholly  inadequate,  the  same  may  be

enhanced  which has to be  commensurate with the   gravity  of  the  offence

so that  it may not amount to failure of justice.     In  all  these  cases,

when  this Court found the sentence awarded by the High Court to  be  wholly

disproportionate  to the gravity  of  offence  and  considered  imprisonment

of a longer period which befitted the  gravity of the offence  committed  by

the accused, it enhanced  the quantum of sentence.

19.         It is  most  certainly true that  the award of   punishment   to

an accused in a case wherein the guilt of the  accused   is  proved,   is  a

serious   and important matter and  the same needs to be  guided  by   sound

logic  uninfluenced by any   emotional or impulsive outburst  or   misplaced

sympathy that more often than  not,  manifest itself    in  the  form  of  a

sentence    that is  either much  too heavy and  oppressive   or  wholly  in

commensurate considering  the gravity of the offence committed.   Courts  in

any view have to avoid such extremities  in their approach   specially  when

there is no legislative compulsion or statutory  prescription  in  the  form

of  a minimum sentence for an offence committed.

20.         Bearing the aforesaid parameters and  the  principles   in  mind

and in the light of findings recorded concurrently and approved  by  us,   I

have not been able to convince  myself or feel persuaded  or  find  a  valid

reason why the High Court should have reduced the sentence   of  two   years

awarded by the trial court by reducing   it to one year in the wake of   the

finding   recorded by us also as we have held that all the  accused  owed  a

duty of care to the deceased persons since  accused  Sushil  Ansal  and  A-2

Gopal Ansal  were  in  actual  control  of  the  premises  and  took  active

participation in the day to day management of the theatre.   They  were  the

actual decision makers without whose approval no action could be  undertaken

in the premises.  A-1 was the licensee of the cinema and had the  obligation

to run it with due and reasonable care.  A-2 as  the  Managing  Director  of

Ansal Properties & Industries Ltd had exercised complete  control  over  the

management of the theatre.   They  were  the  actual  beneficiaries  of  the

establishment who were making out financial gains by  charging  the  public.

As persons in charge of a public entertainment centre which  caters  to  the

general public they owed a duty of care to maintain a safe environment.   It

would be indeed very far fetched to contend that a person  who  maintains  a

cinema hall and charges the public a fee for the facility, does  not  owe  a

duty of care to ensure that the public can enjoy  the  facility  in  a  safe

environment.

21.         In the present case every rule in the  book  had  been  violated

with impunity, whether it be the maintenance  of  the  transformer,  illegal

user of the area around the transformer, closure of  gangways  and  exit  in

the balcony.  Not  only  that  the  transformer  was  not  kept  in  a  safe

environment,  the  area  around  the  transformer  had  been   filled   with

combustible  substances  so  as  to  aggravate  the  danger.    The   public

announcement  system,  emergency  lights  etc  which  are  the  most   basic

requirements in the cinema hall were non functional.  On top  of  that,  the

illegal closure of exit in the balcony ensured that patrons could  not  make

a speedy exit.  All these decision were taken by A-1 and  A-2  who  were  in

active control of the theatre and the premises.  In such a scenario  it  can

easily be said that not only were they negligent but the negligence  was  of

such a high degree that no reasonable  man  would  have  undertaken  such  a

course specially the ones who were dealing in  the  business  of  running  a

cinema theatre where the lives of public at large were involved day  in  and

day out as visitors to the cinema show.

22.         The  death  of  the  deceased  in  the   tragedy   occurred  due

to the trap created   for  them  by  A-1  and  A-2  along   with  the  other

actors   who   helped   them   achieve that end.   Had  the  layout  of  the

balcony not   been   changed   from the   sanctioned   plan   to   such   an

extent  that  access  to the  right  hand  exit was totally blocked, this tragedy

would  not  have  taken  place.   Due  to  theblockage of the right hand exit

the patrons were  forced  to  use  both  the left hand exits which opened

on the smoke filled left hand stairs.

23.         The conduct of A-1 and  A-2/respondents  in  these  appeals  was

thus in total disregard of all the safety rules meant to contain  a  tragedy

of this kind coupled with the knowledge of the 1989  fire  which  had  taken

place earlier in the Uphaar theatre.  The culpability of  the  accused  thus

clearly brings them within the four corners of Section 304  as  it  lies  in

the knowledge that such a tragedy was possible and in fact had  taken  place

in 1989 in an identical  manner.   But  rather  than  taking  stock  of  the

situation they chose to carry on in the same manner as  before  in  reckless

disregard to the consequence.

24.         This    shows   that    the  appellants  /  respondents   herein

Sushil   Ansal  and   Gopal  Ansal   had     knowledge         that      the

transformer     located   on   the    ground    floor     was      dangerous

to the  paying     patrons    visiting    the  cinema.     This     incident

clearly established    that    the  owners/  directors  /  Licencee      and

management   were     aware   of the fact that the transformers posed a

potential danger of a major  fire  and

of the hall and balcony getting smoked up  ‘chimney  effect’.   Inaction  on

the part of A-1 and A-2 despite the pendency of  case  regarding  suspension

of their  license  continued  although  a  major  fire  had  broken  out  on

06.07.1989  at  11.40  P.M.  in  identical  circumstances  when   both   the

transformers i.e. the transformer of the Cinema as well as  the  transformer

of DESU burnt and smoke reached right up to the balcony,  but  no  step  was

taken to rectify the situation.  The Licence was  neither  revoked  nor  was

the matter brought to the notice of Hon’ble High Court.

FAULTY REPAIR OF THE TRANSFORMER

25.         Besides the above, it has further come out in  evidence  led  by

the CBI and referred to extensively, that the cable  end  socket  of  the  B

phase of LT supply, cable of the transformer had not been fixed properly  by

A-9 (B M Satija), A-10 (A.K. Gera) & A-11 (Bir Singh) of DESU. The same  had

been fixed by hammering and not by crimping  machine  or  any  other  proper

system as provided under BIS 1255, 1983. Thus the  short  circuit  resulting

in the fire could have been avoided had the cables been  properly  repaired.

As per the Report of electrical Inspector NCT  of  Delhi  Shri  K.L.  Grover

(EX. PW 24/A), the cable and socket of “B” phase of  LT  supply  cables  had

not been fixed  properly  as  the  same  appeared  to  have  been  fixed  by

hammering and not by the crimping machine or any  other  proper  system.  In

his deposition, he has further clarified that the LT PVC  cable  socket  was

not crimped as required under the provision of IS Code 1255 of 1983 r/w  sub

rule 2 of Rule 29 of Rule 1956. The HT  circuits  were  not  found  provided

with protection system. The OCB were acting like as manual isolator and  not

as OCB’s as they could not  have  been  tripped  automatically  in  case  of

abnormal condition of supply.  The  1000  KVA  transformer  was  not  having

sufficient clearances as required under IS  1886/1967.  No  arrangement  for

draining  out  of  transformer  oil  in  case  of  damage/rapture   to   the

transformer was found  which  is  mandatory  as  per  the  provision  of  IS

1886/1967 & IS 10028/1981.

26.         As is clear from the deposition of PW48 S  K  Bahl  (Addl  Chief

Engineer DVB), the staff of the DVB were obliged to follow the BIS  standard

which provided crimping for fixing of loose  cables.  He  deposed  that  the

Crimping Machines are provided for the purpose of crimping the  socket  with

LT leads of  the  transformer.  This  was  only  to  secure  that  no  loose

connections are made which could give rise to high temperature resulting  in

burning of leads at times. ….It was obligatory  for  the  staff  of  DVB  to

follow the Indian Standards & DVB Manual for both installation  as  well  as

maintenance of substation equipment.

27.          Thus the evidence adduced by the appellant CBI and referred  to

in great detail in support of their  appeal  establishes  that  due  to  the

faulty repair of the transformer the connection of the cable end  socket  of

the B phase of LT supply remained loose which  resulted  in  sparking.  This

coupled with 1000    KVA current which was passing through  these  bus  bars

led to excessive heating. This caused a  cavity  on  the  B       phase

and melting of the upper portion of cable end socket.  Thus  the  cable  and

socket came out from the bolt portion  and  hit  the  radiator  fin  of  the

transformer. The live conductor of the cable (whose  insulation  had  melted

due to  the  heating)  formed  an  opening  in  the  radiator  fin  and  the

transformer oil gushed  out  and  caught  fire.   Reports  of  KV  Singh  EE

Electrical PWD (PW 35/A), Report of Electrical  Inspector,  NCT,  Shri  K.L.

Grover (PW 24/A), Report of Dr. Rajinder Singh (CFSL) (PW 64/B)]  have  been

referred to by the appellant CBI in their appeal.  The above  findings  thus

have rightly been affirmed  by  the  Hon’ble  High  Court  in  the  impugned

judgment.

28.         I have further taken note of the fact that the transformer  room

was not ventilated as  per  the  prescribed  BIS  Rules.  (Clauses  7.3.1.1,

7.3.1.2, 7.3.1.4, 7.9.3 of the BIS rules). In fact,  the  open  space  above

the parapet behind the transformer room from where smoke could  have  easily

gone outside the building was closed. Instead of the  parapet  as  reflected

in the sanctioned  plan  there  was  a  full  wall  behind  the  transformer

effectively trapping the  fire  and  the  smoke  within  the  building.  The

sanctioned plan showed a parapet behind the transformer room as per  PW  15-

Y/11 which is a low wall built along the edge of a roof or a floor not  more

than 3ft. in height” in the Building Byelaws 1959.  So  the  height  of  the

wall behind the transformer could not have been more than 3  feet  according

to the sanction plan.  But as is clear from the various  reports  there  was

full fledged wall behind the transformer.  The Report of MCD Engineers  (Ex.

PW2/A) also states that in the rear a pucca wall marked A-B in the  existing

stilt plan has been constructed in full  height  of  building  whereas  this

wall in stilt floor has been shown open upto  a  height  of  12  ft  in  the

sanctioned plan.  This  was  a  serious  violation  against  the  sanctioned

building plan. The same was  reiterated  in  Report  of  PWD  Engineers  (EX

PW29/A) which states that outer wall behind HT/LT room  was  constructed  up

to the First Floor height instead of  3ft  height.   In  addition  PW2  R.N.

Gupta (EE) MCD and PW 29 B. S.Randhawa  (AE)  PWD  have  also  deposed  that

outer wall behind HT transformer and LT room was found constructed upto  the

first floor height instead of 3 feet height.

29.         I have further noted that A9 to A11  conducted  improper  repair

of the DVB Transformer in  the  morning  of  13.6.97  without  the  help  of

crimping  machine  which  resulted  in  loose  fitting/connections   causing

sparking in between the B Phase of the transformer, causing a  hole  in  the

radiator fin resulting in leakage of transformer oil which  caught  fire  on

account of the rise in the temperature due to the sparking and the  improper

repairs of the transformer which is established from the  Repair  Report  Ex

PW 108/AA, EX PW 40/C: the entry of repair, PW 40 PC Bharadwaj AE DVB  &  PW

44 Bhagwandeen. The contention of B. M. Satija that he  was  not  posted  in

substation zone 1601 is incorrect as is clear from Ex. PW 48 E  which  is  a

letter from S.K. Bahl Addl. Chief Engineer to SP CBI (PW 48) dated  30.07.97

in reply to query from SP CBI. In reply to query No. 3,  he  clearly  stated

that B.M. Satija was entrusted the work of Substation  zone  1601  of  Dist.

R.K. Puram. Uphaar Cinema which substation fell under jurisdiction  of  zone

1601, Capital work order 19.5.1997 vide (Ex PW 43/DC).

CULPABILITY OF THE SUPERVISOR OR INSPECTOR

30.         In the present case, A-9 to A-11 i.e.  the  Inspectors  and  the

fitter of DVB were in charge of the maintenance of  the  transformer   which

is a hazardous object. As electricians they should have known  that  by  its

very nature a transformer of such high capacity  stored  inside  a  building

required proper maintenance and any lapse on their part would  endanger  the

life of all the occupant of the  building  and  neighbourhood.  The  callous

manner of repair by these accused resulted in the  outbreak  of  fire  which

finally resulted in a mass tragedy. A-15  is  the  Divisional  Officer  with

DFS.  It was his duty to inspect the  building  for  the  fire  hazards  and

ensure that it was a safe place for the public.  The  illegalities  and  the

violations committed by the management of the Cinema  would  not  have  been

possible without willful dereliction of duty by this accused.

31.         Thus the very persons who had been deputed to  keep  the  public

safe connived with the management  to  turn  a  blind  eye  to  the  hazards

created in the building. The conduct of this accused  is  nothing  short  of

reckless which finally led to the death of 59 persons as the transformer  in

question i.e. D.V.B. Transformer did not have following safety  measures  at

the time of inspection:

i)    The L.T. Side cables from the bus bar did not have clamping system  or

any support to the cables.

ii)   The earth cable of the transformer had been found  temporarily  fitted

with the earth strip i.e. twisting of earth cable.

iii)  There was no cable trench to conceal the cable.

iv)   H.T. Panel Board of transformer did not have any relay system to  trip

the transformer in case of any fault.

v)    The Buchholtz Relay system was not fitted on the transformer.

vi)   Temperature meter was not found fitted on the transformer.

32.         The physical examination of D.V.B. transformer reveals that  the

cables on bus bars on L.T. side did not have check nuts.  Except  one  lower

terminal of phase Y and neutral terminal. The check nut of neutral  terminal

was found in loose condition. The blue phase single cable at the  top  along

with cable-end-socket (detached cable) fell down  on  radiator  fin  due  to

constant arching sparking at nut bolt portion on bus bar,  decoiling  effect

of cable and weight of cable. All coupled together led  to  eating  away  of

metal of cable and socket  resulting  in  U  shape  cable  socket  end.  The

physical examination of D.V.B. transformer reveals that the  cables  on  bus

bars on L.T. Side did not have check nuts.  Except  one  lower  terminal  of

phase Y and neutral terminal. The check nut of neutral  terminal  was  found

in loose condition. The blue phase single cable at the top along with cable-

end-socket (detached cable) fell  down  on  radiator  fin  due  to  constant

arching sparking at nut bolt portion on bus bar, decoling  effect  of  cable

and weight of cable. All coupled together led to eating  away  of  metal  of

cable and socket resulting in U shape cable socket end.

33.         In fact PW 48 S K Bahl (Addl. Chief Engineer DVB)  deposed  that

as far as substation staff is concerned DVB has Asst. Electric Fitters/  Sr.

Electric Fitter who actually carry out the maintenance  depending  upon  the

extent of damage caused  to  such  equipment.   The  immediate  officer  for

getting such work done is the Junior Engineer who has specific  jurisdiction

of the area as fixed by his officers. The Inspector/JE in  their  respective

areas were responsible for 100% check of the substation.

34.         It had come in the evidence that Crimping Machines are  provided

for the purpose of crimping the socket with LT  leads  of  the  transformer.

This is only to secure that no loose connections are made which  could  give

rise to high temperature resulting   in  burning  of  leads  at  times.  One

transformer of 1000 KVA capacity was existing  in  one  of  the  transformer

rooms at Uphaar complex which  was  catering  to  the  supply  of  adjoining

localities of Green Park, apart from meeting part  of  the  load  of  Uphaar

complex were some of the connections have been  allowed.  It  is  obligatory

for the staff of DVB to fllow the Indian Standards &  DVB  Manual  for  both

installation as well as maintenance of substation equipment.

35.         PW 73 Y. P. Singh (Retd.)  Member  Technical  DVB  also  deposed

that his post was the highest post on technical side in  DVB.   He  went  to

Uphaar cinema  building  on  the  day  the  fire  incident  took  place  and

inspected the place and he deposed that as per the sanction  order  crimping

machine was a major factor. Crimping machine is never kept  in  sub  station

as a stock. It is issued to the person who has to carry on the  repairs.  It

is incorrect that the effect of  hammer  &  dye  is  the  same  as  that  of

crimping machine. In a crimping machine the worker is in a position  to  put

required force while crimping the socket, while in case of dye & hammer  the

force applied is always arbitrary.  A.K. Gera A-10 Gera has  contended  that

he was assigned  Zone 1603 and Uphaar  was  under  1601  therefore  he  just

accompanied Satija and Bir Singh to  Uphaar  and  not  responsible  for  the

repair of the Transformer. In his deposition at PW40 has clarified that  the

complaint was attended to by whoever was available at the time of  complaint

and not limited to the persons assigned to that zone. Zones  are  demarcated

for maintenance but for breakdown there is no bifurcation.

36.         PW44 Bhagwan Deen Mazdor DESU deposed that  on  13.6.97  he  was

working as Mazdoor in DESU at Sector 6 R.K. Puram DESU. On 13.6.97  and  had

accompanied B. M. Satija, Inspector A.K. Gera & Bir  Singh  Sr.  Fitter  and

went to Uphaar cinema at about 10-10.30 AM.  He had  taken  tool  box  along

with him under the instruction all  the  three  above  mentioned  officials.

(The witness correctly identified all the accused in the court).  Bir  Singh

opened the shutter of the transformer room where  the  DVB  transformer  was

installed. The socket was changed with the help dye and hammer  as  crimping

machine was out of order by all the three mentioned above  i.e.  Bir  Singh,

Satija & A.K. Gera. After changing the  socket  the  lead  with  socket  was

connected Bus Bar. The entire repair work was  finished  within  45  minutes

approximately. After replacing the socket and  connecting  to  Bus  Bar  the

switch was put on and thereafter electricity supply was restored.

37.         In addition to the aforesaid evidence,  A-15  H.S.  Panwar-Delhi

Fire Service was responsible for issuing NOC from the fire safety and  means

of escape point of view. Though no fire  safety  and  means  of  escape  was

available as per the standard laid down, in the Uphaar Cinema  on  the  date

of inspection i.e. 12.5.97 & 15.5.97 still NOC was issued. On the  basis  of

this NOC, Temporary License was  issued  by  the  Licensing  Authority.  (Ex

31/DB & Ex 31/DC).

38.         As  a  consequence  of  the  aforesaid  findings  based  on  the

analysis of the evidence  recorded  hereinbefore,  sentence  of   two  years

awarded by the trial court in my view was not fit to be interfered  with  by

the High Court and for this reason the appeal preferred by the  AVUT is  fit

to be allowed to the extent that although  the charge under  Section  304  A

may not be allowed to be converted into 304 Part II by remanding the  matter

for re-trial  after the passage of  more than 16  years,  yet  the  sentence

may not be reduced which trivializes or minimises the gravity of offence  to

a farce  whereby justice to the cause  appears to be a mirage, mockery or  a

mere tokenism.  In my considered opinion, the High Court   has  indulged  in

misplaced sympathy  by reducing  the sentence of two years  awarded  by  the

Trial Court to one year in spite of its  finding  upholding  the  charge  of

gross criminal negligence under  Section  304A  and  other  allied  Sections

which is grossly inadequate considering the nature  and gravity  of  offence

committed by the appellants as  also  the  finding  that  I  have   recorded

hereinabove due to which their  conviction  under Section 304  A,  337,  338

read with 36 IPC has been upheld by us.  In  our  opinion,   the  extent  of

the sentence of two years was thus not fit to be  interfered with.

39.         Nevertheless, the fact remains that 16  years  have  elapsed  in

the process of conclusion of the trial and pendency of the appeal   and  the

appellant No.1 Sushil Ansal is now aged more than 74 years and even if   the

appellants are subjected to undergo the maximum sentence  of two  years,  it

can hardly be held to be sufficient so as to match with  the  magnitude  and

gravity of offence for giving rise to the catastrophe  in which  59  persons

lost  their lives  due to reckless and gross criminal act of  negligence  at

the instance  of  the appellants.  Therefore, in an offence of  this  nature

which can be put some what  on  par  with  the  well-known  tragic  incident

commonly known as ‘Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy’, compensation  of  high  quantum

along with sentence  of imprisonment  may meet the  ends  of  justice  which

must be punitive, deterrent and exemplary   in  nature.   However,  in  this

context, I also find force in the view taken by the High Court of Bombay  in

the matter of State of Maharashtra vs. Chandra  Prakash  Neshavdev  reported

in 1991 Cr.L.J. 3187, wherein it observed that it is an essential  necessity

of public policy that accused who have committed  crimes  must  be  punished

when facts are fresh in the public  mind.   If  for  whatever  reasons,  the

judicial process had dragged on for  an  abnormal  point  of  time  and  the

accused at that stage is faced with an adverse verdict, it would not  be  in

the interest of justice to impose at this point of  time  jail  sentence  on

the accused however serious the  facts  of  the  case  are.   Moreover,  the

tragic  incident  in  this  matter  was  the  consequence  of  a  cumulative

negligence at the instance of the licensee Sushil Ansal  and  its  executing

authority Gopal Ansal as also due to the fault in  the  transformer  of  the

Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and negligence of their  employees  which  was  not

repaired and maintained properly as discussed hereinbefore and  the  accused

appellants did not make a cautious  and  realistic  attempt  or  used  their

foresight to  foresee  such  an  incident  as  ultimately  the  aim  of  the

appellants Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal in Criminal Appeal Nos.597  and  598

of 2010 was to make monetary gain by running the theatre.

40.         Hence, I am of the view that the interest  of  justice  to  some

extent would be served by imposing on the accused appellants  a  substantial

fine and not merely a jail sentence.  Thus, while the sentence of  one  year

imposed by the High Court is upheld, the additional  sentence  of  one  year

further while allowing the appeal of AVUT, is fit to  be  substituted  by  a

substantial sum of fine to be shared equally by the appellants Sushil  Ansal

and Gopal Ansal alongwith the DVB which  also  cannot  absolve  itself  from

compensating the victims of Uphaar tragedy represented by the AVUT.

41.         Thus, while  I  uphold  the  conviction  and   sentence  of  the

appellant No.2 Gopal Ansal in Criminal Appeal No.598 of 2010  who   was   in

fact conducting the business of running the Uphaar Theatre and  had  greater

degree of responsibility  to ensure  safety  of  the   cinema  viewers,  the

appellant Sushil Ansal in Criminal Appeal No.597 of  2010  was  primarily  a

licensee  who  was  conducting  the  business  and  running  Uphaar  Theatre

essentially through his brother A-2 Gopal Ansal.  Hence, while the  sentence

of one year  awarded in Criminal Appeal No.597 of 2010 to  Sushil  Ansal  is

fit to be upheld, the sentence already undergone by him may  be  treated  as

sufficient in the said appeal as he has already served  major  part  of  the

sentence and in spite of dismissal of his appeal,  he  would   at  the  most

serve  the balance three months sentence further along with remission.

42.         But while allowing the appeal of AVUT and CBI, I  take  note  of

the fact that since Sushil Ansal is now more  than  74  years  old  and  was

running the theatre business essentially along with  his  brother  appellant

No.2 Gopal Ansal, I consider that the period  of enhanced sentence in  these

appeals imposed  on the appellants Sushil  Ansal  and  Gopal  Ansal  may  be

substituted  with substantial amount of fine  to  be  specified  hereinafter

and paid in the appeal bearing Nos.600-602 of 2010  preferred  by  AVUT  and

Criminal Appeal Nos.605-616 of 2010 preferred by  the  CBI  which  shall  be

shared by the appellant Sushil Ansal and  appellant  Gopal  Ansal  in  equal

measure along  with the Delhi Vidyut Board as I  have  upheld  the  sentence

imposed on their employees too.  My  view  stands  fortified  by  the  order

passed in the case of Bhopal Gas  Leak  Tragedy  where  the  punishment  for

criminal  negligence   was  allowed  to  be   substituted   by   substantial

compensation which were paid to the victims or their legal representatives.

43.         In view  of  the  candid,  comprehensive,  unblemished  findings

recorded by the trial court, High Court  and upheld by  us  after  intensive

and threadbear scrutiny of the evidence led  by  the   prosecution  as  also

the  accused  respondents  in  the  Criminal  Appeal  Nos.600-602  of   2010

preferred by the AVUT and Criminal Appeal Nos.605-616 of 2010  preferred  by

the CBI, I am of  the view  that the appeals preferred by the AVUT  and  CBI

are fit to be allowed and no leniency deserves to be shown  while   awarding

maximum sentence prescribed  under Section 304 A and other allied  sections.

Nonetheless one will also have to be pragmatic and cannot ignore  that  the

enhancement  of sentence of one year to two  years  to  the  accused  cannot

bring  back those who suffered and lost their lives in the  tragic  and  the

horrific  incident.   Thus,  while  I  am  fully  conscious  and  share  the

intensity of the agony and deep concern of  the AVUT   which has  diligently

prosecuted  the  appeal up to the highest Court, I am  of  the   view  that

the ends of justice to some extent would  be  met  by  not  merely  awarding

them sentence  of imprisonment  which  I  do  by  dismissing  their  appeals

against the judgment and order of the High Court  by which  a  sentence   of

one year has been awarded to  all the accused, but also by  enhancing  their

sentence but substituting it with substantial amount of fine to be used  for

the public cause in the memory of the Uphaar victims.

43.         Hence, in so far as  the  Criminal  Appeal  No.600-602  of  2010

preferred by the AVUT/Victims Association and  the  prosecution  represented

by CBI bearing Criminal Appeal Nos.605-616 of 2010 are concerned, I deem  it

just and appropriate to allow both the appeals by enhancing  their  sentence

upto the maximum period of two years prescribed under IPC for offence  under

Section 304A but in lieu of the additional period of sentence of  one  year,

a substantial  amount  of fine to be specified hereinafter  is  directed  to

be paid by the appellants Sushil Ansal, Gopal  Ansal  and  DVB  in  view  of

gross negligence on the part of their employees in order to compensate   the

charge of criminal negligence established against  these   accused  persons.

Hence, the  enhanced  period of sentence  of  one year shall be  substituted

by imposition of the amount of fine to be paid  by  them  and  I  do  so  by

placing reliance on the ratio of  the order passed in the  well  known  case

of Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy wherein the entire criminal case itself had  been

quashed by way of settlement  against  the  accused  and  the  sentence  was

substituted with heavy amount of  fine which was paid to the victims by  way

of compensation.  However, in  this  matter,  the  appellants  have  already

stood the test of a long drawn trial wherein they have  been  convicted  and

sentenced which I have  upheld  and  hence  they  shall  undergo   remaining

period of sentence imposed under Section 304A along with the fine  which  we

propose to impose in the appeals preferred by AVUT and CBI.

44.         Therefore, for the reasons recorded hereinbefore, I  am  of  the

view  that  in lieu of  the enhanced sentence   of  a  period  of  one  year

which I allow in the  appeals  preferred  by  AVUT  and  CBI,  the  same  be

substituted with a fine of Rs.100 crores (One Hundred Crores) to  be  shared

and paid by A-1 Sushil Ansal and A-2 Gopal Ansal in equal  measure  i.e.  50

crores each and 100 crores in all and shall be  paid  by  way  of  a  demand

draft issued in the name of the Secretary General of the  Supreme  Court  of

India which shall be kept  in a fixed deposit in any nationalised  Bank  and

shall be spent  on the construction of a Trauma Centre to be built   in  the

memory of Uphaar Victims  at any suitable place at Dwarka in  New  Delhi  as

we are informed that Dwarka is an accident prone area  but   does  not  have

any governmental infrastructure  or  public  health  care  centre  to  treat

accident victims.  For  this purpose,  the  State  of  Delhi  as  DVB  which

is/was an instrumentality of the State, shall allot at least five  acres  of

land or more at any suitable location at Dwarka  within  a  period  of  four

months of this judgment and order on which a trauma  centre    for  accident

victims alongwith a super speciality department/  ward   for  burn  injuries

shall be constructed to be known as the ‘Victims of Uphaar  Memorial  Trauma

Centre’  or any other name  that   may  be   suggested  by  the  AVUT/Uphaar

Victims  Association.   This  trauma  centre  shall  be  treated     as   an

extension  centre  of the Safdarjung  Hospital, New Delhi which is close  to

Uphaar Theatre and was the accident site which is hard  pressed   for  space

and desperately needs expansion considering the enormous number of  patients

who go there for treatment.   The  trauma  centre  to  be  built  at  Dwarka

shall be treated as an extension centre of  the Safdarjung Hospital   to  be

constructed by the respondent accused Sushil Ansal  and  respondent  accused

Gopal  Ansal  under  the  supervision  of  the  Building  Committee  to   be

constituted which shall include Secretary  General  of  the  Supreme  Court,

Registrar Administration of the Supreme Court alongwith a representative  of

the AVUT nominated by  the  Association  and  the  Hospital  Superintendent,

Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi within a period of two years  from  the  date

of allotment of the plot of land by the State of Delhi which  shall  be  run

and  administered  by   the   authorities   of   the   Safdarjung   Hospital

Administration as its extension centre for accident victims.

45.         In case,   the  accused   appellants/respondents  herein  Sushil

Ansal and Gopal Ansal fails to  deposit  the  fine  as  ordered,  the   land

alongwith Uphaar Theatre which is the accident site and  is  still  existing

at Green Park and has been seized shall  be put to public auction under  the

supervision of the Building Committee  referred  to  hereinbefore  and   the

proceeds thereof shall be spent  for  constructing  the  Trauma Centre.   It

will be open for the Building Committee and/or the  AVUT  in  particular  to

seek such other or further  direction  from  this  Court  as  and  when  the

necessity arises in regard to the construction operation and  administration

of the Trauma Centre.  The appeals bearing Criminal Appeal  Nos.600  to  602

of 2010 preferred by AVUT and  the  appeal  preferred  by  the  CBI  bearing

Criminal Appeal Nos.605 to 616 of 2010 thus stand  allowed in terms  of  the

aforesaid order and direction.

46.          In  so  far  as  the  other  connected  Criminal  Appeals   are

concerned, I respectfully agree and affirm the judgment and order passed  by

Hon’ble Thakur, J.  Thus, the  appeals  bearing  Nos.597  and  598  of  2010

preferred by the appellants/respondents Sushil Ansal  and  Gopal  Ansal  are

dismissed except that the sentence imposed  on  the  appellant  No.1  Sushil

Ansal is reduced to the period already undergone  considering  his  advanced

age.  The other appeals preferred by the officers of DVB bearing Nos.617  to

627 of 2010 and 604 of 2010 and the employee of Fire Service bearing  Appeal

Nos.599 of 2010 are also dismissed as already ordered by Hon’ble Thakur,  J.

with which I agree.   Consequently,  the  appellants   shall   surrender  to

serve out the remaining  part  of  their   sentence   and  in  view  of  the

appeals  of AVUT and CBI bearing Appeal Nos.600 to 602 of 2010  and  605  to

616 of 2010 having been allowed, who are the respondents  Sushil  Ansal  and

Gopal Ansal in the appeals preferred by AVUT and the CBI, shall deposit  the

amount of fine imposed hereinbefore  expeditiously  but  not  later  than  a

period of  three months from the date of receipt of a copy of this  judgment

and order

…………………………J

(Gyan Sudha Misra)

New Delhi,

March 05  , 2014

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICITION

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.597 OF 2010

Sushil Ansal                                       …Appellant

Versus

State Through CBI                                  …Respondent

(With Crl. Appeals No.598/2010, 599/2010, 600-602/2010, 604/2010, 605-

616/2010 and 617-627/2010)

ORDER BY THE COURT

In the light of separate  opinions  delivered  by  us  in  the  above-

mentioned matters, we pass the following order:

(1)   Criminal Appeal No.617 of 2010 (wrongly numbered as  Criminal  Appeals

No.617-627/2010) filed by B.M Satija,  Inspector  DVB  and  Criminal  Appeal

No.604 of 2010 filed by Bir Singh, Senior Fitter,  DVB  are  partly  allowed

and their convictions altered to Sections 337 and 338 read with  Section  36

of the IPC. The sentence awarded to them shall, however,  remain  unaltered.

(2)   Criminal Appeals No.597, 598 and 599 of 2010 filed  by  Sushil  Ansal,

Gopal Ansal  and  Harsarup  Panwar  respectively  in  so  far  as  the  same

assail/challenge the conviction of the appellants  for  offences  punishable

under Section 304A read with Section 36 of the IPC and Sections 337 and  338

read with Section 36 of the IPC shall stand dismissed and  their  conviction

affirmed.

(3)   Criminal Appeals No.607 to 612 and 614 to 616 of  2010  filed  by  the

CBI challenging the orders of acquittal of the respondents in those  appeals

shall stand dismissed.

(4)   Criminal Appeals No.597, 598 and 599 of 2010 filed by  the  appellants

in those appeals and Criminal Appeals No.605, 606 and 613 of 2010  filed  by

the State and Criminal Appeals No.600-602 of 2010 filed by  the  Association

of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy to the extent  the  said  appeals  involve  the

question of quantum of sentence to be awarded to  the  convicted  appellants

in the appeals mentioned above shall stand referred to a three-Judge Bench.

Registry to place the papers before  Hon’ble  the  Chief  Justice  for

constitution of an appropriate Bench.

.………………….……….…..…J.

(T.S. THAKUR)

………..…………………..…..…J.

(GYAN SUDHA MISRA)

New Delhi

March 5, 2014

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