The Delhi High Court on Friday upheld a trial court order framing charges of tampering of evidence against real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal in a case relating to the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy. Holding that the trial court had rightly framed charges against the accused, Justice Siddharth Mridul said "the material on record gives rise to strong suspicion that the accused persons had committed the offences for which the charges were framed against them".
"Consequently, there exist no circumstances to warrant interference with the order by this court in exercise of its revisional jurisdiction," it added.
The court directed the trial court to proceed with the trial in the matter in accordance with law.
The judge also said that in his view, prima facie, there was sufficient ground to proceed against the accused. "Further, there is adequate material for presuming that the accused had committed the offences for which they have been charged.
"Therefore, the trial court cannot be faulted for forming a presumptive opinion regarding the existence of the factual ingredients constituting the offences alleged, and for the framing of charges on the basis of a strong suspicion founded on the material herein before elaborated," it added.
A magisterial court had on May 31, 2014 ordered framing of charges against seven accused for abatement of offence, causing disappearance of evidence, criminal breach of trust by public servant and criminal conspiracy..
Theatre owners Gopal Ansal and his brother Sushil Ansal, Anoop Singh, Prem Prakash Batra, Harswaroop Panwar, Dharamveer Malhotra and Dinesh Chandra Sharma are accused of tampering with evidence in the case, pending since 2006.
All the accused have denied the allegations against them.
On February 9, the Supreme Court in the curative petition had sentenced Gopal Ansal to jail for a year in connection with the blaze. However, the bench had spared 77-year-old Sushil Ansal because of his age. It had also upheld the fine of Rs 30 crore each imposed on the duo and had said the money should be utilised to set up a trauma centre.
Following this, Gopal Ansal had approached the Supreme Court seeking modification of its order on the grounds of parity, saying he was 69-year-old and would suffer irreparable damage to his health if sent to prison which was dismissed and Gopal Ansal surrendered before the Tihar Jail authorities on March 20.
The high court had in March last year allowed a plea of the Delhi Police seeking transfer of revision petitions of the accused which was pending before a sessions court.
The high court transferred the matter to itself, saying it was warranted in order to protect and uphold dignity and majesty of judicial system and to ensure faith of the citizens in the court of law.
The order was passed after all the parties gave their consent for transfer of petitions before the high court. Ansal brothers, Malhotra and Singh had approached the sessions court challenging the order passed by a magisterial court framing charges against them in the case.
Later, the Delhi Police approached the high court seeking transfer of revision petitions, pending in the court of an Additional Sessions Judge at Patiala House court here, to some other competent court having jurisdiction.
Allowing the police's petition, Justice Mridul observed in his 106-page order that "it is axiomatic to state that the standard of proof normally adhered to at the final stage, is not to be applied at the stage of framing of charges.
"In my opinion, the probative value of the material on record could not be gone into at this stage. Whether, in fact, the accused has committed the offences, can only be decided in the trial," the judge said.
It said that there are the natural inferences which courts are called upon to draw on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
"Cases of direct evidence, on the other hand, are as plain as the nose on one's face. Whatever one perceives with any of his physical senses is direct evidence and every other piece of evidence is circumstantial," it observed.
On June 13, 1997, a fire had broken out at the theatre during the screening of Bollywood film 'Border', killing 59 people and injuring over 100.
A court had on January 31, 2003, ordered an inquiry after some documents related to the Uphaar case had gone missing from the court's record room. After an inquiry, a court employee was dismissed from service.(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)