The Supreme Court’s decision to spare the Ansal brothers, convicts in the Uphaar Cinema tragedy, any more jail time due to their age has attracted sharp criticism from members of the legal fraternity.
“The judgement is no less than travesty of justice,” advocate Ashok Agarwal, senior lawyer in Supreme Court and rights activist, said.
“It has not done justice to the victims. The experience suggests that our judicial system tilts in favour of the rich and the mighty and ignores the weak and the helpless,” he told Firstpost.
Speaking about the case of Sahara Group chief Subrata Roy, who has been in jail despite no pending case against him, he said, “He was sent to jail for hurting the sentiments of the court. There is no FIR against him, neither has he been charge-sheeted. There is no logic in putting him behind bars for nearly one year. I would like to know how many defaulters have been sentenced for not meeting SEBI’s conditions so far.”
“Although sentencing is a matter of the wisdom of the court, if someone is forced to stay behind bars for hurting the sentiment of the court, and others who took innocent lives through criminal negligence are let off, it raises questions on the impartiality of our justice delivery system,” he said.
Advocate Colin Gonsalves, senior lawyer of the apex court, said: “I cannot comment on the judgement but I feel that if a person comes from a particular class in the society, he gets treated differently. If these persons were ordinary working class people, they would certainly have been sent to jail.”
Supreme Court lawyer Aishwarya Bhati chose not to criticise the judgement, but said that the punishment was inadequate and that the court should have done more. She found lacuna in the statute.
“In our penal code, there is no categorisation of crime as heinous on the basis of how many lives have been lost. That is why in this case (Uphaar) the maximum sentence prescribed is two years. The Supreme Court cannot close its eyes to what is prescribed in the statute and regular parameters that they follow for these kind cases,” Bhati said.
When asked whether age can be a factor for not sentencing a person, she replied, “Age is not always the only parameter. It always depends on the nature of crime. The nature of crime is always how it is defined in the IPC (Indian Penal Code) or whichever law makes it punishable. Age is just a factor, but not a defining factor.”
Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost her daughter 17-year-old Unnati and son 13-year-old Ujwal (13) in the Uphaar tragedy, has been spearheading the legal battle for victims under the banner of Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT). She said the judgement had shocked them.
“After being awarded two years of rigorous imprisonment, they (Ansal brothers) have been let off just because they have money. The only reasoning behind the release is that they are old. With this verdict, a message is going to the society that it is alright to kill people and get away because you are old and have money,” she told Firstpost.
“We have no one left in our family and the judges should have seen this as well. The gravity of the offence is gauged with the fact that 23 children died in the tragedy. If you are seeing the ages of Ansals, please see the age of the youngest victim of the Uphar tragedy who was just a 30-day old. I would say if Ansals are too old to be sent to jail, she was too young to die,” she added.
She said the appropriate sentence has to be awarded as per the gravity of the offence, the manner of commission of crime and the age of the accused.
In the Nitish Katara case, Neelam said, the court had increased the sentence of a convict because that man had tampered with the evidence.
“The court took into account his conduct. Then the same was not done in this case. Why was the Ansals’ conduct not taken into account and why there is a disparity?” she said.