The Supreme Court’s decision to waive off the rest of the jail term of the powerful Ansal brothers, convicted for causing death in the Uphaar cinema fire by their negligence, hasn’t gone down too well in the judicial corridors and also evoked much disquiet among the average litigant about the court’s lenient attitude towards the rich and the powerful.
The apex court Wednesday said that Ansal brothers will not go back to Tihar Jail to serve their remaining jail terms as it imposed a fine of Rs. 30 crores each on them.
Describing it “unfortunate order”, where the victims have been completely given a good-bye, well-known lawyer Kamini Jaiswal told IANS: “Having waited for 19 years with full faith and confidence in judiciary this must be a traumatic experience” for them.
“This fortifies the impression carried by many that the (judicial) yard-stick varies for the rich and famous and the poor,” Jaiswal added.
“The judgment is not in accordance with the law of the land. Fifty-nine people have died. The case of gross negligence was clearly established. Therefore it was a fit case to award maximum sentence of two years (as provided) under the Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code”, senior counsel Shekhar Naphade told IANS.
However, holding that there was “nothing wrong in the order,” Rupinder Singh Sodhi: a former Delhi High Court judge and now a practicing senior counsel in the apex court, told IANS: “Ansals have already undergone a substantial part of the one year sentence awarded to them by the Delhi High Court. There is a provision for fine under Section 304A Fine is not a lesser sentence. Nor is it a compromise nor can you term it blood money as has been said.”
“Please understand, we don’t believe in an eye-for-an-eye or a tooth-for-a-tooth,” Justice Sodhi said, addding: “This is a sentence provided under Section 304A IPC and it is that sentence that has been awarded to Ansals. They have been given both.”
Section 304A that provides for punishment for causing death by negligence says:“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.”
Differing with Justice Sodhi, Jaiswal said: “If the application for enhancement of sentence (as was sought by the CBI) was to be rejected, the sentence given by the High Court should at least have been have been confirmed.”
Naphade had reservations over the way entire case was handled, saying: “Perhaps the case could have been brought under Section 304 part II but unfortunately that angle was not seriously pursued.”
There seems to be a disquiet amongst the lawyers over the manner in which the punishments under the penal provision gets invoked differently depending on the social milieu of the litigant and it is this that found expression when senior counsel Ravindra Srivastava told IANS: “The law regarding sentencing should be consistent and should be consistently applied.”