Special public prosecutor (SPP) Dayan Krishnan told Justice Subramonium Prasad that the mutilation of “vital documents” forced the prosecution to record the secondary evidence in the case which resulted in an enormous delay of trial court proceedings.
He said the Ansals, who hatched a conspiracy with other co-accused to “secure advantage” in the trial in the main Uphaar Cinema fire case by tampering with evidence, are still taking the benefit of the delay as they are now seeking suspension of sentence on account of their old age.
The Ansals had filed petitions before the high court for suspension of their seven-year jail terms in the evidence tampering case after a sessions court, in December, rejected their plea to suspend the conviction by a magisterial court and refused to release them on bail.
“There is no suspension of innocence anymore. Is it something so stark and illegal that the court would interfere?.. The prosecution was forced to record secondary evidence. The trial was enormously delayed. They are taking the benefit even today when they said I’m old, let me off,” Prasad stated.
He also informed the court that the appeal against the conviction was ripe for hearing before the sessions court which has agreed to expedite it.
Prasad further submitted that the accused had full knowledge about the prosecution case against them and there was thus no prejudice caused to them.
On a previous occasion, the SPP had argued that every attempt was made to delay the trial and repeated court interventions were sought so that the trial proceeds and now after conviction, the convicts cannot take the ground of old age for suspension of their sentences.
The police had earlier told the high court that it has serious objections to the release of Ansal brothers on account of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and argued that the nature of offence was such that it put the entire system in peril.
Senior advocate Arvind Nigam, representing Sushil Ansal, had contended that the “mutilated” documents were not even relevant to his culpability in the main Uphaar trial and his conviction in the evidence tampering case was a “travesty of justice”.
He had highlighted that Sushil Ansal was over 80 years of age and suffered from various ailments.
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Gopal Ansal, had also argued that his client was over 70 years of age and the court should exercise its wide and liberal discretion to release him.
The court was also informed that in the main case of fire at the cinema, the petitioners were convicted and sentenced to 2-year jail term by the Supreme Court which subsequently released them on payment of Rs 30 crore fine each after taking into account the prison time they had done. The fire had broken out at the Uphaar cinema during the screening of the Hindi film ‘Border’ on June 13, 1997, claiming 59 lives.
While dismissing Ansals’ plea for suspension of sentence till the appeal against the conviction by magisterial court is decided, the sessions court had said that the case was one of the gravest of its kind and the offence appeared to be the outcome of a calculated design on the part of the convicts to interfere with the course of justice.
The sessions court had also refused to suspend the seven-year jail term each to former court staff Dinesh Chand Sharma and two others — P P Batra and Anoop Singh — in the case and release them on bail.
The tampering was detected for the first time on July 20, 2002, and when it was unearthed, a departmental enquiry was initiated against Sharma and he was suspended.
Later an enquiry was conducted and he was terminated from services on June 25, 2004.
The magisterial court had also imposed a fine of Rs 2.25 crore each on the Ansals apart from imposing a seven-year-term in the case.
The case was lodged on the direction of the Delhi High Court while hearing a petition by AVUT chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy.
The matter would be heard next on January 19.