Victims of the Uphaar Fire Tragedy who have waited tirelessly for two decades were deeply disappointed and distressed by the judgement they finally received from the highest court in India on 9th February 2017. We believe that the verdict is certain to go down in the history as a travesty of justice. The judgement is both unfortunate and terrible and one which shows the pro-establishment mindset of the Supreme Court. Such a judgement will only embolden the owners of public spaces to violate safety rules and compromise on safety, with no thought of endangering human lives. It is a well-known fact that law breakers are always ahead of law makers, but it is for the courts to see that justice is done and law breakers are brought to book.
Our courts have not learnt from their counterparts in other countries who have dealt sternly and swiftly to deal with tragedies involving human lives. It is as if the law is being administered by our courts to nurture corporate interests and not to deliver justice.
Punishment should always be proportionate to /commensurate with the gravity of offence, and factors such as economic or social status of the accused, their age, or long pendency of criminal trial cannot be construed as factors for reducing the sentence.
There is a plethora of Supreme court judgements wherein the Supreme Court has incarcerated convicts for life despite their old age. In a recent judgement ( Abdul Waheed v/s State of U.P.- SCC (2016) Vol –I 583) the Supreme court in a 40 year old case, while sentencing a ninety year old man to life imprisonment has held that it is the duty of court to award proper sentence having regard to the manner in which the offence was committed. Age of the appellant and the time elapsed since occurrence is of no relevance. Undue sympathy would do more harm to criminal justice system in addition to undermining the public confidence in the efficacy of the system.
Sushil Ansal, 76 year old is fit to play Golf, carry on his business activities and also make plans to relocate overseas, but strangely Supreme Court finds him too old to serve jail time.
The jail sentence of one year awarded by the court to Gopal Ansal barely works out to 6 days in jail for each of the 59 he killed, whereas for Sushil Ansal who has undergone 5 months and twenty days in jail, it works out to only around 3 days per innocent victim.
We have also received information recently that a mercy petition has been filed on behalf of Gopal Ansal by Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani. The same has been received by the Ministry of Home Affairs and forwarded to the Lt. Governor of Delhi for his opinion. We are shocked that the Ministry of Home Affairs has bothered to entertain such a blatantly undeserving petition on behalf of a convicted mass murderer. We trust that our hopes will not be dashed further by the Lt. Governor by entertaining this petition.
We have spent the last twenty years suffering pain, emptiness & desperation, hoping that this verdict would bring peace to the departed souls of our loved ones. We heard it said innumerable times that justice should not only be done, but must also be seen to be done. But unfortunately justice has been denied to the Uphaar victims.
After making the victims of the terrible Uphaar tragedy wait for justice for eighteen long years, on 19th August 2015, the highest court in the land unjustly permitted the convicted Ansal brothers, Sushil and Gopal, to escape their prison sentence by paying a price of 60 crores to the Delhi Government, ostensibly for the construction of a trauma centre in Delhi NCR. The Ansals deposited Rs 30 crore each to the Chief Secretary, Delhi Government on 9th November 2015 and the same has been accepted.
In the nineteen years since June 13, 1997, we have been hoping to get justice from the judiciary all the while undergoing further stress and trauma. Sadly, the interests of the accused seem to be of greater importance than the interests of victims.
We believe that the message sent by this sentence is one that will prove to be dangerous for the safety and welfare of the citizens of this country, and more so for the residents of Delhi. Instead of imposing punitive measures on the convicts, the order actually gives convicts and criminals the option of paying a price for their freedom. By this logic the rich and powerful in the corporate sector who own most public spaces like multiplexes ,hospitals, shopping malls, schools could take hundreds of lives, secure in the knowledge that even if they are convicted, payment of a penalty of 1 crore per life taken will ensure that they can go scot-free. We have waited nineteen years for justice. But the Ansal brothers were able to walk free after just a few months in jail. With this judgement of the Supreme Court how do we ensure that no more lives are lost because of pure greed and recklessness?
Though the Supreme Court allowed an open court hearing of the Review Petition on 6th January 2016 it has still not been taken up or scheduled for hearing. Since the matter was not being listed, AVUT mentioned the matter in the court of Hon’ ble Chief Justice on 17th March 2016 for an early hearing. CJI assured the counsel appearing for AVUT that the review plea would be listed for hearing after the Holi vacation. As the matter was not listed after the Holi vacation AVUT mentioned the matter again on 19th April 2016. The court said it would consult the concerned judges of the bench and explore possibility of listing and hearing the plea during upcoming summer vacation. Unfortunately no orders have been passed.
We at AVUT sincerely hope that justice would be done so that there is a judicial closure for the victims’ families.
Order dt 19.8.2015 Uphaar : Link to Supreme Court order in the Uphaar case.
On the 18th death anniversary of the 59 innocent lives who perished in the terrible Uphaar Fire Tragedy on June 13, 1997 it is with deep pain and despair that we inform our well-wishers that despite following the case relentlessly for the last eighteen years, AVUT has failed in its endeavour. As the families of the victims continue to struggle to cope with their unimaginable grief and loss, the convicts are free to carry on with their business activities as usual and enjoy life.
The judgment in the Criminal Appeal was pronounced on 5th March 2014 by the Supreme Court and pronounced the Ansals guilty. Though the judges concurred on the findings, there was dissent with regards to the sentencing and the matter was referred to a three judge bench. The primary criteria which the court has considered while sentencing is a prolonged trial the accused have faced and the delay of more than sixteen years in the conclusion of proceedings against them. It is matter of record that it was the victims who had at every stage approached the High Court for expeditious trial since the accused were delaying the proceedings by seeking frequent adjournments. Why should the accused be given the double benefits of first a prolonged trial as it is a well-known fact that it is they who seek adjournments on one pretext or the other, and then a lighter sentence on the grounds of delay. In fact delaying the trial proceedings is detrimental to the victims. Once the charge sheet is filed and cognizance is taken by the court it is the responsibility of the courts and the Prosecuting agency to expedite the trial proceedings.
It has been one year and three months since the Ansals were convicted by the Supreme Court, but the order on their sentencing is still awaited. To our knowledge it is unprecedented that an order on sentencing remains pending for over a year after conviction. In the last one year AVUT had moved three applications for early hearing. The matter was finally listed for hearing on 21st April 2015 but we were outraged when once again when the matter was adjourned at the request of the Ansals. How long will we continue to be the victims of this adjournment culture?
While the accused in our country manage to get an early hearing and also get relief, the victims continue to suffer. Even though the country is supposed to be heading for ‘Achhe Din’ under the leadership of our Prime Minister, it seems there will never be any ‘Achhe Din’ for Uphaar Victims unless they get justice for their loved ones
If our Prime Minister really wants us to be proud Indians let him take steps to improve the Justice delivery system. We as bereaved families are definitely not proud Indians when, despite our best and most sincere efforts, the state has failed us in its duty to provide justice for the victims of the Uphaar tragedy in the last two decades.
AVUT PRAYER MEET: 18th DEATH ANNIVERSARY OF VICTIMS OF THE UPHAAR FIRE
Saturday, 13th June, 2015 AT 9 a.m.
VENUE: “SMRITI UPAVAN”- GREEN PARK EXTENSION, OPP.UPHAAR CINEMA.
To mark the 18th death anniversary of the 59 precious lives lost in the Uphaar fire, the Association is holding a Havan & Shanti Path at “Smriti Upavan” opposite Uphaar Cinema, Green Park Extension, New Delhi .
- One year and three months since Ansals were convicted by the Supreme Court on 5th March 2014 , order on sentencing is still awaited .To our knowledge it is unprecedented that an order on sentencing remains pending for over a year after conviction.
- Charges framed in the Tampering of Evidence matter pertaining to 2003 against Sushil Ansal , Gopal Ansal and 5 others u/s 409,109,201 & 120B IPC by Ld. CMM Patiala House Court on 31.05.2014. A year later only one witness has been examined.
- Appeal to the Government of India to bring in a new legislation to deal with man-made disasters pending for past 6 years .
- We at AVUT still await judicial closure.