The Delhi High Court has said real estate baron Sushil Ansal, convicted for the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire incident that claimed 59 lives, misled the Indian government and misrepresented on oath regarding his conviction when he applied for a passport in 2013 under tatkaal scheme for which appropriate proceedings "would be warranted".
The observation by Justice Najmi Waziri came while ordering lodging of an FIR against the police officers who in 2013 had given a favourable verification report to Ansal, despite his non-disclosure about his conviction in the Uphaar case, which led to issuance of the travel document to him.
While issuing the direction, the court also rejected the argument made on behalf of Ansal that a citizen was not compelled under the Passports Act to give the information sought from him when applying for travel document under the tatkaal scheme.
It said the scheme was a "special arrangement" for issuing a passport on an urgent basis and would be subject to receipt of requisite information by the government.
The court said Ansal availed the benefit and specifically deposed on an affidavit that he had never been punished by any criminal court for an offence.
"This is in the face of his conviction in the year 2007, the sentence of punishment was reduced to one year in 2008, which was further reduced by the Supreme Court in 2014. When respondent 4 (Ansal) filed the affidavit, he ought to have made it clear to the government that he had indeed been convicted for at least one year by this court.
"When respondent 4 applied through the tatkaal scheme, he should have given information as required. Sushil Ansal has not only misled the Government of India, but has misrepresented on oath. Appropriate proceedings against him would be warranted," it said.
The court's observation came while hearing a plea moved by Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), through its chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy, seeking a CBI probe into the alleged criminal misconduct by passport and police officials in issuing the travel document to Ansal.
Ms Krishnamoorthy, who lost her two children in the tragedy, has been fighting a legal battle on behalf of the victims' families for the last 20 years.
A fire at Uphaar cinema during the screening of Hindi film 'Border' on June 13, 1997 killed 59 people.
The top court last year asked Gopal Ansal, who was also convicted in the case, to undergo the remaining of one-year jail term in the case, while his elder brother Sushil Ansal got relief from incarceration with a prison term already undergone by him in view of age-related complications.
During the proceedings, Ansal's lawyers had also contended that since the high court in May 2008 had granted him permission to travel abroad on his passport, which was valid till 2016, the said order would also be applicable to him till then and therefore, he had "carte blanche" to go abroad without needing to furnish any other information.
This argument was also rejected by the court which said Ansal was permitted to go abroad only on a travel document issued by the government and once his passport ran out of pages, he could not have used it further and had to apply afresh for a booklet in view of the changed rules.
"On a fresh application being made, all requisite information would have to be provided in the application," it said.
With regard to the relaxation granted to Ansal in 2018, when he applied for a fresh passport, by changing the requirement for pre-police verification to post-police verification, the court said there was no explanation for this.
It asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to look into this and give a report within four weeks.
"Let the matter be looked into by an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary, MEA. The report be filed in court, in a sealed cover. The inquiry report would suggest measures for plugging in such lacunae as have been observed.. and furnishing of such other specific information as may be deemed necessary from an applicant for issuance of a passport," the court said in its order dated December 17.
The MEA had earlier given a report to the court blaming Delhi Police and passport authorities for issuing the travel document without proper verification to Ansal.
The court had asked the MEA to carry out an inquiry against the passport officers who had repeatedly issued the travel document to Ansal in 2000, 2004, 2013 and 2018 and to submit a report before it.
AVUT, represented by senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, had contended in court that there was a "nexus" and "conspiracy" between the RPO officials, police officers and Ansal which led to the issuance of the passport to him despite being convicted in the Uphaar tragedy case.
As per rules, the passport application for new/ re-issue/ replacement of lost/ damaged passport issued by the MEA mandates the applicant to disclose whether he is involved in a criminal case or not and to produce the NOC from the court concerned in case they are involved in any criminal prosecution.
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