1997 Uphaar cinema fire: HC rejects Gopal Ansal’s early hearing plea in passport renewal matter

The Delhi High Court Friday dismissed an application by real estate tycoon Gopal Ansal, convicted in an evidence tampering case related to the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire trial, seeking an urgent hearing of his plea for renewal of passport for 10 years.

The high court said an early hearing was not possible in the matter.

“I consider that the board (work load) does not permit an early date. The application is dismissed. List on September 4, the date already fixed in the matter,” Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma said.

Gopal Ansal, 75, has said in his application he needs to travel abroad for business meetings for which he has to get his passport renewed urgently. Ansal’s passport expired on December 12, 2020.

He prayed for advancing the hearing from September 4 to an earlier date. He has sought renewal of his passport for 10 years, contending it is the normal validity period of an ordinary passport.

Ansal said he undertakes that once his passport has been renewed he will seek permission of the high court before leaving the country.

The high court had earlier issued notices to the police and the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), represented through senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, on Ansal’s passport renewal plea.

The high court had said the record showed that by its August 10, 2021 order the trial court had maintained it had no objection to the renewal of the petitioner’s passport as per rules and procedure which permit renewal of the travel document for one year for people facing trial or appellate proceedings.

The application was filed in a pending petition by Gopal Ansal in which he has sought setting aside of the conviction and sentence for tampering with evidence.

He has already completed his jail term in the case which pertained to the fire incident of June 13, 1997.

Besides him, 84-year-old Sushil Ansal, his brother, their former employee P P Batra and former court staff Dinesh Chandra Sharma have also approached the high court seeking setting aside of their conviction and sentence.

AVUT has already filed a petition in the high court for enhancement of the punishment awarded to the convicts in the evidence tampering case.

A magisterial court had on November 8, 2021 awarded seven-year jail terms to the two real estate baron brothers and since then they were in prison.

The sessions court had on July 19, 2022 modified the magisterial court’s order on sentence and ordered the release of Sushil and Gopal Ansal, Dinesh Chandra Sharma and P P Batra against the period they had already served in jail since November 8, 2021.

It had imposed a fine of Rs 3 crore each on Sushil and Gopal Ansal, Rs 30,000 on Batra and Rs 60,000 on Sharma.

While upholding the conviction of the Ansal brothers, the trial court had acquitted co-accused Anup Singh.

The matter is related to tampering with the evidence in the main fire tragedy case in which the Ansals were convicted and sentenced to a 2-year jail term by the Supreme Court.

The apex court, however, released them taking into account the prison time they had done on the condition that they pay Rs 30 crore fine each for building a trauma centre in the national capital.

The fire had broken out at the Uphaar cinema hall during the screening of the Hindi film ‘Border’ on June 13, 1997, claiming 59 lives.

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