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Sec.304 A IPC – Uphaar Tragedy – Apex court imposed fine of Rs.100 crores – for the construction of a Trauma Centre in the memory of Uphaar Victims to be built up at Dwarka in New Delhi =Sushil Ansal …Appellant Versus State Through CBI …Respondent = 2014 (March. Part )judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41301

  Sec.304 A IPC – Uphaar Tragedy –  Apex court imposed fine of Rs.100 crores – for the construction of a Trauma Centre in the memory of Uphaar Victims to be built up at Dwarka in New Delhi =

Victims  of  Uphaar

Tragedy (hereinafter, “AVUT”) that led to the death of  59  persons  besides

injuries to nearly 100 others.=


Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2), who happen to  be  brothers,

were charged with offences punishable under Sections 304A read with  Section

36 and Sections 337 and 338 read with Section 36  IPC  for  their  negligent

acts of  omission  and  commission  of  allowing  installation  of  the  DVB

transformer, various structural and fire safety deviations in  the  building

in violation of various Rules and not facilitating  the  escape  of  patrons

which caused the death of 59 persons and simple  and  grievous  injuries  to

100 others in the fire incident mentioned  above.  They  were  also  charged

under Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952  for  contravention  of  the

provisions of the Delhi Cinematograph Rules, 1953 (hereinafter  referred  to

as ‘DCR, 1953’) and Delhi Cinematograph Rules,  1981  (hereinafter  referred

to ‘DCR, 1981’).=

Cause of Death 

From the report of Dr. T.D. Dogra, Forensic  Expert,  obtained

on 18th September, 1997,  the  investigating  officers  concluded  that  the

rapid death of the victims  could  have  been  caused  by  inhalation  of  a

combination of toxic gases including carbon  monoxide  and  sulphur  dioxide

which were produced by combustion of articles like  diesel,  petrol,  rubber

and styrene. =

 

Aggrieved by the judgment and order passed against them,  all  the  12

accused persons convicted by the Trial Court preferred  appeals  before  the

Delhi High Court. The Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy also filed  a

revision petition challenging the judgment and order of the Trial  Court  to

the extent  the  same  convicted  the  accused  persons  only  for  offences

punishable under Section 304A IPC instead of Section 304, Part II  IPC. =

2.    The High Court has, on a reappraisal of the evidence  adduced  at  the

trial, acquitted five of  the  appellants  before  it  while  upholding  the

convictions of the rest with  or  without  modification  of  the  nature  of

offence in some cases and reduction of the sentence in others. =

(iv)  The High Court further held that merely because the letter  dated  6th

March, 1997 had presented R.M. Puri and K.L. Malhotra (both since  deceased)

as authorised signatories of the company for operating the  cinema  and  for

dealing  with  the  licensing  authority  did  not  mean  that  a   specific

nomination in their favour was made in terms of Rule 10(2) of DCR,  1953  or

the corresponding provision under DCR, 1981.  The High Court held  that  the

shareholding pattern of the  company  revealed  that  the  major/predominant

shareholding continued to remain with the Ansal family and at  no  point  of

time was any outsider shown to have held any of the 5000  shares  issued  by

the company.


(v)   In para 9.67 of its  judgment  the  High  Court  held  that  from  the

deposition of those shown to be the Directors of the  company  in  the  year

1996 to 1997, it is evident that  even  though  they  had  attended  certain

meetings of the Board, they were completely unaware  of  the  vital  aspects

including the fact that Uphaar Cinema was being run by  Ansal  Theatres  and

Clubotels Pvt. Ltd. and whether they were in fact Directors or empowered  to

act on behalf of the company.=

Law of Torts by Rattanlal &  Dhirajlal,  explains  negligence  in  the

following words:

 

           “Negligence is the breach of a duty caused by the omission to do

           something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations

           which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do,

           or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would  not

           do.  Actionable negligence consists in the neglect of the use of

           ordinary care or skill towards a person to  whom  the  defendant

           owes the duty of observing ordinary care  and  skill,  by  which

           neglect the plaintiff has  suffered  injury  to  his  person  or

           property.  According to Winfield, “negligence as a tort  is  the

           breach of a legal duty to take care  which  results  in  damage,

           undesired by the defendant to the  plaintiff”.   The  definition

           involves three constituents of negligence: (1) A legal  duty  to

           exercise due care on the part of the party complained of towards

           the party complaining the former’s conduct within the  scope  of

           the duty; (2) Breach of the said  duty;  and  (3)  consequential

           damage. Cause of action for negligence arises only  when  damage

           occurs for damage is a necessary ingredient of this  tort.   But

           as  damage  may  occur  before  it  is  discovered;  it  is  the

           occurrence of damage which is the starting point of the cause of

           action.

 In Gee v. The Metropolitan Railway Company (supra), a train  passenger

leant on the door of a railway carriage believing it to have  been  properly

fastened, when in fact it was not. This resulted in  the  door  flying  open

and the passenger getting thrown out of  the  carriage.   The  question  was

whether there was any contributory negligence  on  the  part  of  the  train

passenger.  The Court held that the passenger was entitled  to  assume  that

the door had been properly fastened and that the accident  had  been  caused

by the defendants’ negligence.  The Court observed:

 

           “Because I am  of  opinion  that  any  passenger  in  a  railway

           carriage, who rises for the purpose either of looking out of the

           window, or dealing with, and touching, and bringing his body  in

           contact with the door for any lawful purpose whatsoever,  has  a

           right to assume, and is justified in assuming, that the door  is

           properly fastened; and if by reason of its  not  being  properly

           fastened his lawful  act  causes  the  door  to  fly  open,  the

           accident is caused by the defendants’ negligence.”

 In view  of  the  candid,  comprehensive,  unblemished  findings

recorded by the trial court, High Court  and upheld by  us  after  intensive

and threadbear scrutiny of the evidence led  by  the   prosecution  as  also

the  accused  respondents  in  the  Criminal  Appeal  Nos.600-602  of   2010

preferred by the AVUT and Criminal Appeal Nos.605-616 of 2010  preferred  by

the CBI, I am of  the view  that the appeals preferred by the AVUT  and  CBI

are fit to be allowed and no leniency deserves to be shown  while   awarding

maximum sentence prescribed  under Section 304 A and other allied  sections.

 Nonetheless one will also have to be pragmatic and cannot ignore  that  the

enhancement  of sentence of one year to two  years  to  the  accused  cannot

bring  back those who suffered and lost their lives in the  tragic  and  the

horrific  incident.   Thus,  while  I  am  fully  conscious  and  share  the

intensity of the agony and deep concern of  the AVUT   which has  diligently

 prosecuted  the  appeal up to the highest Court, I am  of  the   view  that

the ends of justice to some extent would  be  met  by  not  merely  awarding

them sentence  of imprisonment  which  I  do  by  dismissing  their  appeals

against the judgment and order of the High Court  by which  a  sentence   of

one year has been awarded to  all the accused, but also by  enhancing  their

sentence but substituting it with substantial amount of fine to be used  for

the public cause in the memory of the Uphaar victims.

 

43.         Hence, in so far as  the  Criminal  Appeal  No.600-602  of  2010

preferred by the AVUT/Victims Association and  the  prosecution  represented

by CBI bearing Criminal Appeal Nos.605-616 of 2010 are concerned, I deem  it

just and appropriate to allow both the appeals by enhancing  their  sentence

upto the maximum period of two years prescribed under IPC for offence  under

Section 304A but in lieu of the additional period of sentence of  one  year,

a substantial  amount  of fine to be specified hereinafter  is  directed  to

be paid by the appellants Sushil Ansal, Gopal  Ansal  and  DVB  in  view  of

gross negligence on the part of their employees in order to compensate   the

charge of criminal negligence established against  these   accused  persons.

Hence, the  enhanced  period of sentence  of  one year shall be  substituted

by imposition of the amount of fine to be paid  by  them  and  I  do  so  by

placing reliance on the ratio of  the order passed in the  well  known  case

of Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy wherein the entire criminal case itself had  been

quashed by way of settlement  against  the  accused  and  the  sentence  was

substituted with heavy amount of  fine which was paid to the victims by  way

of compensation.  However, in  this  matter,  the  appellants  have  already

stood the test of a long drawn trial wherein they have  been  convicted  and

sentenced which I have  upheld  and  hence  they  shall  undergo   remaining

period of sentence imposed under Section 304A along with the fine  which  we

propose to impose in the appeals preferred by AVUT and CBI.

 

44.         Therefore, for the reasons recorded hereinbefore, I  am  of  the

view  that  in lieu of  the enhanced sentence   of  a  period  of  one  year

which I allow in the  appeals  preferred  by  AVUT  and  CBI,  the  same  be

substituted with a fine of Rs.100 crores (One Hundred Crores) to  be  shared

and paid by A-1 Sushil Ansal and A-2 Gopal Ansal in equal  measure  i.e.  50

crores each and 100 crores in all and shall be  paid  by  way  of  a  demand

draft issued in the name of the Secretary General of the  Supreme  Court  of

India which shall be kept  in a fixed deposit in any nationalised  Bank  and

shall be spent  on the construction of a Trauma Centre to be built   in  the

memory of Uphaar Victims  at any suitable place at Dwarka in  New  Delhi  as

we are informed that Dwarka is an accident prone area  but   does  not  have

any governmental infrastructure  or  public  health  care  centre  to  treat

accident victims.  For  this purpose,  the  State  of  Delhi  as  DVB  which

is/was an instrumentality of the State, shall allot at least five  acres  of

land or more at any suitable location at Dwarka  within  a  period  of  four

months of this judgment and order on which a trauma  centre    for  accident

victims alongwith a super speciality department/  ward   for  burn  injuries

shall be constructed to be known as the ‘Victims of Uphaar  Memorial  Trauma

Centre’  or any other name  that   may  be   suggested  by  the  AVUT/Uphaar

Victims  Association.   This  trauma  centre  shall  be  treated     as   an

extension  centre  of the Safdarjung  Hospital, New Delhi which is close  to

Uphaar Theatre and was the accident site which is hard  pressed   for  space

and desperately needs expansion considering the enormous number of  patients

who go there for treatment.   The  trauma  centre  to  be  built  at  Dwarka

shall be treated as an extension centre of  the Safdarjung Hospital   to  be

constructed by the respondent accused Sushil Ansal  and  respondent  accused

Gopal  Ansal  under  the  supervision  of  the  Building  Committee  to   be

constituted which shall include Secretary  General  of  the  Supreme  Court,

Registrar Administration of the Supreme Court alongwith a representative  of

the AVUT nominated by  the  Association  and  the  Hospital  Superintendent,

Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi within a period of two years  from  the  date

of allotment of the plot of land by the State of Delhi which  shall  be  run

and  administered  by   the   authorities   of   the   Safdarjung   Hospital

Administration as its extension centre for accident victims.

 

45.         In case,   the  accused   appellants/respondents  herein  Sushil

Ansal and Gopal Ansal fails to  deposit  the  fine  as  ordered,  the   land

alongwith Uphaar Theatre which is the accident site and  is  still  existing

at Green Park and has been seized shall  be put to public auction under  the

supervision of the Building Committee  referred  to  hereinbefore  and   the

proceeds thereof shall be spent  for  constructing  the  Trauma Centre.   It

will be open for the Building Committee and/or the  AVUT  in  particular  to

seek such other or further  direction  from  this  Court  as  and  when  the

necessity arises in regard to the construction operation and  administration

of the Trauma Centre.  The appeals bearing Criminal Appeal  Nos.600  to  602

of 2010 preferred by AVUT and  the  appeal  preferred  by  the  CBI  bearing

Criminal Appeal Nos.605 to 616 of 2010 thus stand  allowed in terms  of  the

aforesaid order and direction.

 

46.          In  so  far  as  the  other  connected  Criminal  Appeals   are

concerned, I respectfully agree and affirm the judgment and order passed  by

Hon’ble Thakur, J.  Thus, the  appeals  bearing  Nos.597  and  598  of  2010

preferred by the appellants/respondents Sushil Ansal  and  Gopal  Ansal  are

dismissed except that the sentence imposed  on  the  appellant  No.1  Sushil

Ansal is reduced to the period already undergone  considering  his  advanced

age.  The other appeals preferred by the officers of DVB bearing Nos.617  to

627 of 2010 and 604 of 2010 and the employee of Fire Service bearing  Appeal

Nos.599 of 2010 are also dismissed as already ordered by Hon’ble Thakur,  J.

with which I agree.   Consequently,  the  appellants   shall   surrender  to

serve out the remaining  part  of  their   sentence   and  in  view  of  the

appeals  of AVUT and CBI bearing Appeal Nos.600 to 602 of 2010  and  605  to

616 of 2010 having been allowed, who are the respondents  Sushil  Ansal  and

Gopal Ansal in the appeals preferred by AVUT and the CBI, shall deposit  the

amount of fine imposed hereinbefore  expeditiously  but  not  later  than  a

period of  three months from the date of receipt of a copy of this  judgment

and order.

 

2014 (March. Part )judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41301

 

T.S. THAKUR, GYAN SUDHA MISRA

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICITION

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.597 OF 2010

Sushil Ansal …Appellant

Versus

State Through CBI …Respondent

(With Crl. Appeals No.598/2010, 599/2010, 600-602/2010, 604/2010, 605-
616/2010 and 617-627/2010)

J U D G M E N T

T.S. THAKUR, J.

Enforcement of laws is as important as their enactment, especially
where such laws deal with safety and security of citizens and create
continuing obligations that call for constant vigil by those entrusted with
their administration. Callous indifference and apathy, extraneous
influence or considerations and the cynical “Chalta Hai” attitude more
often than not costs the society dearly in man-made tragedies whether in
the form of fire incidents, collapse of buildings and bridges, poisonous
gas leaks or the like. Short-lived media attention followed by
investigations that at times leave the end result flawed and a long winding
criminal trial in which the witnesses predecease their depositions or
switch sides under pressure or for gain and where even the victims or their
families lose interest brings the sad saga to an uncertain end. A somewhat
similar story is presented in these appeals by special leave arising out of
a common judgment and order dated 19th December, 2008 passed by a Single
Judge of High Court of Delhi whereby a batch of criminal appeals filed by
those convicted by the trial Court for commission of different offences and
the sentences awarded to them were disposed of alongwith criminal revision
petition no.17 of 2008 filed by the Association of Victims of Uphaar
Tragedy (hereinafter, “AVUT”) that led to the death of 59 persons besides
injuries to nearly 100 others.
2. The High Court has, on a reappraisal of the evidence adduced at the
trial, acquitted five of the appellants before it while upholding the
convictions of the rest with or without modification of the nature of
offence in some cases and reduction of the sentence in others. We shall in
the course of this judgment refer in detail to the view taken by the Trial
Court and the extent and nature of modification made to that by the High
Court in the impugned judgment.

3. Suffice it to say that the fire incident that claimed valuable human
lives took place in the heart of the capital city of Delhi in a cinema
building situate in its posh Green Park Extension area on 13th June, 1997.
The factual backdrop in which the unfortunate victims lost their lives or
suffered injuries has been set out by the Trial Court in its judgment and
reiterated by the High Court in the order passed by it without any
significant changes in the narrative. In the Trial Court, as in the High
Court and even before us there was no serious dispute as to the cause of
the fire leading to the loss of human lives. We, therefore, would remain
content with the broad narration of the facts as are available from the
order passed by the Trial Court and that passed by the High Court, which
are as under:

The Incident:
4. Uphaar Cinema building, situate on a plot of 2480 square yards at
Green Park Extension Shopping Centre, New Delhi, comprised a cinema
auditorium with a sanctioned capacity of 750 seats besides a balcony with a
sanctioned capacity of 250 seats. The cinema auditorium comprised the first
floor of the cinema complex while the balcony was constructed on the second
floor. The ground floor of the building comprised a parking lot besides
three separate rooms on the western side, one of which was used for placing
a 500 KVA electric transformer that supplied electric energy to the cinema
theatre while the other was used for housing a 1000 KVA transformer that
was installed and maintained by the Delhi Vidyut Board (hereinafter
referred to as “DVB”). It is common ground that the second transformer even
though located within the cinema premises, did not supply electricity to
the cinema but rather to some of the tenants occupying parts of the
commercial complex that formed a part of the building and some other
consumers from the locality.

5. The prosecution case is that on 13th June, 1997 at about 6.55 a.m.
the bigger of the two transformers installed and maintained by DVB on the
ground floor of the Uphaar Cinema building caught fire. The fire was
brought under control by 7.25 a.m. Inspection of the transformer by the
Superintendant of the DVB and his team revealed that three of the low
tension cable leads of the transformer had been partially burnt. At about
10.30 a.m., B.M. Satija (A-9) and A.K. Gera (A-10), Inspectors from DVB
along with Senior Fitter, Bir Singh (A-11) conducted repairs on the
transformer by replacing two aluminium sockets on the B-Phase of the low
tension cable leads. The repairs, it appear, were carried out with the help
of a dye and hammer without the use of a crimping machine. The transformer
was recharged for resumption of electric supply by 11.30 a.m. on 13th June,
1997.

6. The prosecution alleges that repairs conducted on the transformer in
the earlier part of the day were unsatisfactory and resulted in loose
connections that caused sparking on the B-Phase of the transformer where
such repairs were carried out. This resulted in the loosening of one of the
cables of the transformer which eventually came off and started dangling
loose along the radiator and burnt a hole in the radiator fin. Through this
hole the transformer oil started leaking out which, on account of the heat
generated by the loose cable touching against the radiator, ignited the oil
at about 4.55 p.m. on 13th June, 1997. Since the transformer did not have
an oil soak pit as required under the regulations and the standard
practice, the oil that spread out of the enclosure continued leaking and
spreading the fire to the adjacent parking lot where cars were parked at a
distance of no more than a metre from the door of the transformer. The
result was that all the cars parked in the parking area on the ground floor
of the cinema hall were ablaze. Smoke started billowing in the northern and
southward directions in the parking lot of the cinema complex. The northern
bound smoke encountered a gate which was adjacent to a staircase leading to
the cinema auditorium on the first floor. Due to chimney effect, the smoke
gushed into the stairwell and eventually entered the cinema auditorium
through a door and through the air conditioning ducts. The southward bound
smoke similarly travelled aerially through another staircase and into the
lower portion of the balcony of the auditorium from the left side. All this
happened while a large number of people were seated in the auditorium
enjoying the matinee show of ‘BORDER’, a popular Hindi movie with a
patriotic theme. Because of smoke and carbon monoxide released by the
burning oil and other combustible material, the people in the auditorium
started suffocating.

7. The Shift In-charge of the Green Park Complaint Centre of DVB
received a telephonic message from K.L. Malhotra (A-4), since deceased, who
was the Deputy General Manager of Uphaar Cinema at the relevant point of
time, regarding the fire. It was only then that the AIIMS grid to which the
transformer in question was connected was switched off and the flow of
energy to the cinema complex stopped. According to the prosecution the
supply of the 11 KV outgoing Green Park Feeder tripped off at 5.05 p.m.
thereby discontinuing the supply of energy to the cinema.

8. Inside the auditorium and balcony there was complete pandemonium. The
people in the balcony are said to have rushed towards the exits in pitch
darkness as there were neither emergency lights nor any cinema staff to
help or guide them. The prosecution alleged that no public announcement
regarding the fire was made to those inside the auditorium or the balcony,
nor were any fire alarms set off, no matter the management and the
employees of the Uphaar Cinema were aware of the fact that a fire had
broken out. Even the Projector Operator was not given instructions to stop
the film while the fire was raging nor was any patron informed about the
situation outside. On the contrary, the doors to the middle entrance of the
balcony were found to be bolted by the gatekeeper-Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) who
had left his duty without handing over charge to his reliever. More
importantly, the prosecution case is that the addition of a private 8-
seater box had completely closed off the exit on the right side of the
balcony, while the addition of a total of 52 extra seats over the years had
completely blocked the gangway on the right side of the balcony. Similarly,
the gangway on the right of the middle entrance was significantly narrower
than required under the regulations. It was alleged that Sushil Ansal (A-1)
and Gopal Ansal (A-2), the owners of the cinema hall, had knowledge of
these deviations from fire safety norms despite which they had continued
exhibiting films, thereby endangering the lives of all those who patronized
the theatre. All these obstructions, deviations, violations and
deficiencies had, according to the prosecution, resulted in the victims
getting trapped in the balcony for at least 10-15 minutes exposing them to
lethal carbon monoxide, to which as many as 59 persons eventually
succumbed.

9. Rescue operations attempted by the fire tenders from the Bhikaji Cama
Place and Safdarjung Fire Stations were undertaken after the Delhi Fire
Service received a complaint from K.L. Malhotra (A-4), since deceased, at
5.10 p.m. The fire tenders took nearly forty five minutes to one hour to
extinguish the fire and to rescue the persons trapped in the balcony by
opening the bolted doors and taking those who had collapsed and those
injured to the hospitals. No one from the staff or management of the
theatre was, according to the prosecution, present at the spot to lend a
helping hand in the rescue operations.

Investigation and Charges:

10. Investigation into the fire incident and the resultant causalities
started pursuant to FIR No.432/97 registered at Police Station, Hauz Khas
on the basis of a written complaint filed by one Sudhir Kumar, Security
Guard, employed by the management of the cinema complex. The investigation
was initially conducted by the Delhi Police but was soon thereafter
transferred to the Crime Branch and eventually to the Central Bureau of
Investigation under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. The
CBI registered case bearing No.RC-3(S)/97/SIC.IV/New Delhi on 25th July,
1997.

11. The investigating agencies first looked into the incidents of fire
and got prepared and seized the record relevant thereto, including a report
signed by B.M. Satija (A-9), A.K. Gera (A-10), Inspectors and Bir Singh (A-
11) Senior Fitter, which dealt with the nature of repair that was conducted
on the DVB transformer after the first incident. The investigating agencies
also looked into the chain of events that led to the second fire at around
5.00 p.m. and the entry of smoke into the cinema auditorium and the
balcony. A report from the Central Building Research Institute was also
obtained by the investigating agencies on 17th August, 1997 under the
signatures of T.P. Sharma (PW-25). Expert opinion of K.V. Singh, Executive
Engineer (Electrical), PWD was also obtained by the investigating officers
on 29th June, 1997, in addition to two CFSL reports prepared by Dr.
Rajender Singh forwarded to the Hauz Khas Police Station on 27th June, 1997
and to the CBI on 11th August, 1997. These reports were marked Exs. PW 64/B
and PW 64/D at the trial.

12. The investigating officers also examined the cause of malfunctioning
of the DVB transformer and obtained a report Ex. PW24/A in that regard from
Mr. K.L. Grover, Electrical Inspector and Mr. A.K. Aggarwal, Assistant
Electrical Inspector on 25th June, 1997. The report obtained from Professor
M.L. Kothari of IIT, New Delhi, on 2nd July, 1997 analysed and attributed
the cause of fire to malfunctioning of the DVB transformer.

13. The investigating agencies then looked into the fire safety
deviations in the Uphaar Cinema building to determine whether the same had
contributed to the fire and hindered the escape of those seated in the
cinema auditorium and balcony from the poisonous carbon monoxide that had
polluted the atmosphere inside the complex. Reports from Executive
Engineers, MCD were also obtained in this regard. A Panchnama depicting
floor-wise deviations in the Uphaar Cinema building and an Inspection-cum-
Scrutiny report marked as Ex.PW 2/A indicating the structural deviations
was also submitted by the MCD to the CBI on 11th August, 1997.

14. Similarly, the investigating agencies collected a fire report marked
Ex. PW 49/E from the Delhi Fire Service regarding the rescue operations
conducted by the fire service personnel on the date of the occurrence.

15. Post-mortem conducted on the dead body of Captain M.S. Bhinder, one
of the unfortunate victims, revealed that the cause of death was
asphyxiation. From the report of Dr. T.D. Dogra, Forensic Expert, obtained
on 18th September, 1997, the investigating officers concluded that the
rapid death of the victims could have been caused by inhalation of a
combination of toxic gases including carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide
which were produced by combustion of articles like diesel, petrol, rubber
and styrene.

16. Statements of a large number of witnesses relevant to the fire
incident, its causes and effects were also recorded by the investigating
agencies from time to time culminating in the filing of a common
chargesheet against 16 persons accusing them of commission of several
offences punishable both under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as also under
the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. What is important is that
while accused A-1, A-2, A-12, A-13 and A-14 were charged with commission of
offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337, 338 read with Section 36, IPC
and Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, accused A-3 to A-8
comprising the management and gatekeeper of the Cinema were charged with
commission of offences punishable under Sections 304, 337, 338 read with
Section 36, IPC and Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The
employees of DVB namely Inspectors B.M. Satija (A-9), A.K. Gera (A-10) and
Senior Fitter, Bir Singh (A-11) were also charged with the commission of
offences punishable under Sections 304, 337 and 338 read with Section 36 of
the IPC. As regards the remaining three accused namely, N.D. Tiwari (A-
14), H.S. Panwar (A-15) and Surender Dutt (A-16), they were charged with
commission of offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337, 338 read with
Section 36 of IPC.

17. Since some of the offences with which the accused persons were
charged were triable by the Court of Sessions, the case was committed for
trial to Additional Sessions Judge, New Delhi, who framed specific charges
against Sushil Ansal (A-1), Gopal Ansal (A-2) and the rest of the accused.
18. Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2), who happen to be brothers,
were charged with offences punishable under Sections 304A read with Section
36 and Sections 337 and 338 read with Section 36 IPC for their negligent
acts of omission and commission of allowing installation of the DVB
transformer, various structural and fire safety deviations in the building
in violation of various Rules and not facilitating the escape of patrons
which caused the death of 59 persons and simple and grievous injuries to
100 others in the fire incident mentioned above. They were also charged
under Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 for contravention of the
provisions of the Delhi Cinematograph Rules, 1953 (hereinafter referred to
as ‘DCR, 1953’) and Delhi Cinematograph Rules, 1981 (hereinafter referred
to ‘DCR, 1981’).

19. Managers, R.M. Puri (A-3), since deceased, K.L. Malhotra (A-4) since
deceased, R.K. Sharma (A-5) since deceased, N.S. Chopra (A-6), Ajit
Choudhary (A-7), since deceased and Manmohan Uniyal (A-8), gatekeeper were
also charged with commission of offences punishable under Section 304 read
with Section 36 of IPC since, despite being present at the time of the fire
incident, they failed to inform, alert and facilitate the escape of the
patrons from the balcony during the fire while knowing fully well that
their act was likely to cause death or such bodily injuries as was likely
to cause death.

20. Similarly, B.M. Satija (A-9), A.K. Gera (A-10) and Bir Singh (A-11)
were charged with commission of offences punishable under Section 304 read
with Section 36 IPC in that they had not used the required crimping machine
while repairing the DVB transformer after the first fire incident on 13th
June, 1997 knowing fully well that this could and did cause the transformer
to catch fire once again and result in the death or bodily injury as was
likely to cause death of persons in the building.

21. The rest of the accused persons namely, S.N. Dandona (A-12) since
deceased, S.S. Sharma (A-13), N.D. Tiwari (A-14), H.S. Panwar (A-15) and
Surender Dutt (A-16) since deceased, were charged with offences punishable
under Sections 304A, 337 and 338 IPC read with Section 36 IPC for causing
the death of 59 persons and simple and grievous injuries to 100 others by
their acts and omissions of negligently issuing No Objection Certificates
to Uphaar Cinema without ensuring that the statutory requirements for fire
safety and means of escape were adhered to.

22. All the accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges framed
against them and claimed a trial. Not only that, all of them filed writ
petitions before the Delhi High Court against the order framing charges
passed by the Trial Court which were dismissed by the High Court in terms
of four separate orders passed by it. A Special Leave Petition filed
against the order of dismissal of the writ petition by Sushil Ansal (A-1)
was dismissed as withdrawn by an order of this Court dated 12th April,
2002.

Evidence at the Trial:

23. At the trial the prosecution examined as many as 115 witnesses in
support of its case apart from placing reliance upon nearly 893 documents
marked in the course of the proceedings. The oral evidence adduced broadly
comprised depositions of witnesses whom providence helped to escape alive
from the cinema complex on the fateful day. These witnesses narrated the
events inside the cinema hall and the confusion that prevailed after people
started suffocating because of smoke entering from in front of the screen
and through the AC ducts before the hall was eventually plunged into
darkness, leaving the people inside trapped without any emergency lights or
help coming from any quarter. Those in the balcony found that they could
not escape since all the doors were locked. The depositions comprising
Kanwaljeet Kaur (PW-1), Karan Kumar (PW-3), Rishi Arora (PW-7), Amit (PW-
8), Hans Raj (PW-11) and Satpal Singh (PW-12) gave graphic accounts of the
situation that prevailed inside the cinema hall and the rescue operations
after the Fire Brigade arrived to help them out.

24. The evidence also comprised the depositions of Neelam Krishnamoorthy
(PW-4), Ajay Mehra (PW-5), Harish Dang (PW-6), Satish Khanna (PW-9), Kishan
Kumar Kohli (PW-10), Raman Singh Sidhu (PW-13) and Surjit Singh (PW-66)
relatives of some of the victims, who narrated their travails and proved
the death certificates of those lost in the tragedy. Neelam Krishnamoorthy
(PW-4) happens to be the unfortunate mother of two who were seated in the
rightmost two seats in the front row of the balcony.

25. Some of the onlookers and others who helped in the rescue operations
were also examined by the prosecution apart from the officers of the Delhi
Fire Service. R.C. Sharma (PW-49) Chief Fire Officer, testified to the
presence of smoke in the stairwell and the balcony and stated that he could
not open the balcony door until he received help of two other officers.
Depositions of B.L. Jindal (PW-15) and Ram Kumar Gupta (PW-17) who happened
to be the Assistant Engineer and Junior Engineer respectively of the MCD
were also recorded. A large number of 14 witnesses were examined to prove
the structural deviations in the building upon an inspection conducted
after the fire incident. An equally large number of 33 witnesses were
examined to prove documents relied upon by the prosecution. Witnesses were
also examined to prove the sanction orders issued by the competent
authority to prosecute some of the accused who happened to be public
servants. Evidence regarding the ownership, management and administration
of the company which owned Uphaar Cinema, M/s Green Park Theaters
Associated (P) Ltd. was also adduced.

26. Medical evidence led at the trial comprised the deposition of Dr.
T.D. Dogra (PW-62) who proved the death certificates of 41 victims in which
the cause of death was stated to be suffocation. In addition, Dr. S.
Satyanarayan (PW-77) who conducted the post-mortem on the dead body of
Captain M.S. Bhinder was also recorded. Officials from DVB and those
connected with the investigation too were examined by the prosecution
before closing its case.

Findings of the Trial Court:

27. The Trial Court appraised the evidence led at the trial including the
depositions of three defence witnesses, one each, examined by H.S. Panwar
(A-15), Bir Singh (A-11) and A.K. Gera (A-10) and recorded findings and
conclusions that may be summarized as under:

(a) That Uphaar Cinema was owned by a company that was closely held by
Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2) and other members of their family
and that several violations regarding the installation of a transformer and
the seating arrangement in the balcony, structural deviations in the
building were committed while Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2) were
either Directors or the Managing Directors of the said company. Even after
the alleged resignation of the Ansal brothers in the year 1988 they
continued to be in control of the management of the cinema and the running
of its day-to-day affairs, including exercising control over the Managers
and other staff employed.

(1) In coming to that conclusion, the Trial Court relied upon both
documentary and oral evidence adduced before it by the prosecution.
The Trial Court found that application dated 2nd February, 1973 made
to the erstwhile DESU for grant of electricity connection for Uphaar
Cinema was signed by Sushil Ansal (A-1). So also letter dated 2nd
February, 1973 by which the company had agreed to give DESU two rooms
for their transformer and HT and LT panels at a nominal rent of Rs.11/-
per year was signed by Sushil Ansal (A-1). The fact that the original
licence granted to Uphaar Cinema was granted in favour of M/s Green
Park Theatres Associated (P) Ltd. (in short, “GPT”) through Sushil
Ansal (A-1) as the Managing Director at that time, as also the fact
that Sushil Ansal (A-1) continued to be representative licensee for
the cinema was also relied upon by the Trial Court in support of its
conclusion that Sushil Ansal (A-1) exercised control and management
over Uphaar Cinema at the relevant point of time. Reliance was also
placed by the Trial Court upon letter dated 19th June, 1974 written on
behalf of GPT by Sushil Ansal (A-1) whereby the Entertainment Officer
was requested to permit the owner to lease out the top floor of Uphaar
Cinema for office use and the ground floor for commercial
establishments. An affidavit dated 21st March, 1975 and letter dated
2nd April, 1979 filed in connection with renewal of the cinema license
were also relied upon by the Trial Court to show that Sushil Ansal (A-
1) was not only the licensee of Uphaar Cinema, but also that he had
held himself out in that capacity before the concerned authorities.
Letter of authority authorizing V.K. Bedi, Architect, to deal,
discuss, explain and make corrections in the building plan as well as
to collect the sanction plan on his behalf as also reply to show-cause
notice dated 11th May, 1981 issued by the Deputy Commissioner of
Police (Licensing) [in short, “DCP (L)”] which too was sent by Sushil
Ansal (A-1) as licensee for GPT were relied upon by the Trial Court to
buttress its conclusion that Sushil Ansal (A-1) was the person
exercising control over the affairs of the cinema and its Managing
Director.
(2) The Trial Court noted that although Sushil Ansal (A-1) had
resigned from the Directorship of the company on 17th October, 1988,
he had continued to be the licensee of the cinema as is evident from
an affidavit dated 3rd March, 1992 (Ex. PW50/B) addressed to DCP (L)
seeking renewal of the license for the years 1992-93. In the said
affidavit the Trial Court observed that Sushil Ansal (A-1) clearly
mentioned that he continued to be the occupier of the licensed
premises and the owner of the Cinematograph. Minutes of the meeting of
the Board of Directors held on 24th December, 1994 were also noticed
by the Trial Court to show that although Sushil Ansal (A-1) resigned
from the Directorship of the company in 1988 he had continued to be
involved in the affairs of the cinema, no matter in the capacity of a
Special Invitee. Reliance was also placed by the Trial Court upon the
inspection proformas of the Delhi Fire Service for the years 1995-1997
to show that Sushil Ansal (A-1) continued to be shown as licensee of
Uphaar Cinema.
(3) The Trial Court placed reliance upon the financial authority and
the control exercised by Sushil Ansal (A-1) in the affairs of the
cinema hall. In this regard the Trial Court referred to a self-cheque
(Ex.PW91/B) dated 26th June, 1995 for a sum of rupees fifty lakhs
drawn by Sushil Ansal (A-1) from the accounts of GPT. Closer to the
date of occurrence, the Board of Directors of the company had on 25th
March, 1996 passed a resolution authorising Sushil Ansal (A-1) to
operate the bank accounts of the company upto any amount. The Trial
Court also relied upon other circumstances to support its conclusion
that although Sushil Ansal (A-1) claims to have resigned from the
Directorship of the company in the year 1988, he continued to be the
heart and soul of the company and in complete management of the cinema
affairs. Reliance was also placed upon Ex. PW103/XX3 by which Sushil
Ansal (A-1) was appointed authorized signatory to operate the Current
Accounts with various banks.
(4) The Trial Court similarly referred to and relied upon several
pieces of documentary evidence in holding that Gopal Ansal (A-2) also
exercised extensive control over the affairs of the cinema. The Court,
in particular, relied upon the resolution of the Board of Directors
passed on 15th July, 1972 (Ex.PW103/XX) according to which Gopal Ansal
(A-2) was authorised to sign all documents, drawings and other
connected papers regarding the submission of revised plans,
applications for electricity connections concerning Uphaar Cinema,
etc. Letter dated 24th May, 1978 (Ex. PW110/AA20), addressed by Gopal
Ansal (A-2) as Director, GPT seeking permission to install an eight-
seater box and reply dated 6th December, 1979 to the show-cause notice
for removal of one hundred extra seats after withdrawal of the 1979
resolution which was signed by Gopal Ansal (A-2) as Director of GPT
were also relied upon by the Trial Court. Similarly, letter dated 29th
July, 1980 addressed to DCP(L) for the installation of fifteen
additional seats in the balcony was found to have been written by
Gopal Ansal (A-2) as Director, GPT. Reply to the show-cause notice
dated 28th May, 1982 was similarly found to have been given by Gopal
Ansal (A-2) as Director of GPT in which he tried to explain the
reasons for the bolting of doors from the inside during exhibition of
a film and gave assurance that the utmost precaution would be taken by
the management in future. The Trial Court also relied upon the fact
that the car parking contract was granted by Gopal Ansal (A-2) as
Director of GPT in April, 1988.
(5) The Trial Court further relied upon the Minutes of the Meeting
held on 25th March, 1996 of the Board of Directors of the company
appointing Gopal Ansal (A-2) as authorised signatory upto any amount
to operate the bank accounts. Cheques issued by Gopal Ansal (A-2)
subsequent to the said authorisation in favour of the Chief Engineer
(Water) and in favour of the Music Shop from the accounts of GPT which
later was rechristened as Ansal Theaters & Clubotels (P) Ltd. were
also relied upon by the Trial Court in support of its conclusion that
Gopal Ansal (A-2), like his brother Sushil Ansal (A-1), even after
resigning from the Directorship of the company, continued to exercise
control over the affairs of the cinema complex. This was, according to
the Trial Court, evident from the fact that Gopal Ansal (A-2) was
appointed authorised signatory to operate the current accounts, as was
the case for Sushil Ansal (A-1) also.
(6) Last but not the least, the Trial Court relied upon the Minutes
of the Meeting dated 27th February, 1997 (Ex. PW98/X4) in which Gopal
Ansal (A-2), described as “MD” of the company, is said to have desired
that not even a nail be put in the cinema premises without his prior
permission. Similarly, in the Minutes of the MD Conferences dated 2nd
April, 1997 and 1st May, 1997, Gopal Ansal (A-2), described as “MD in
Chair”, issued instructions in this capacity regarding a large number
of business decisions and day-to-day affairs of the company. The Trial
Court held that Gopal Ansal (A-2) was proved to be MD in Chair by
letters marked (Ex. PW98/X-2) and (Ex. PW98/X-3). He was also shown to
be “MD in Chair” for the MD Conference held on 7th May, 1997 in terms
of letter dated 9th May, 1997 marked Ex. PW98/X-C.
(b) That a 750 KVA DVB transformer was installed in the cinema premises
in complete violation of the Electricity Rules and in breach of the
sanctioned plan for the building.
(1) The Trial Court found that the sanctioned plan marked Ex. PW15
Y/3 provided for three adjacent rooms on the ground floor each
measuring 20×10 feet to be used for installation of a transformer. The
first of these three rooms was to be used for HT cables that would
bring high voltage current from the AIIMS Grid Station. The second
room was to be used for installing the transformer that would step
down the high density current and transmit the same to the third room
which was meant for LT cables from where the current would then be
supplied to the cinema building.
(2) Relying upon the report submitted by Mr. K.L. Grover (PW-24),
the Electrical Inspector, the Trial Court concluded that it was
essential for the management of the cinema to obtain permission from
the Licensing Department as also from the Municipal Corporation of
Delhi (in short, “MCD”) prior to the installation of the said
transformer. Instead of doing so, the internal positioning of the
walls of the transformer area comprising the three rooms mentioned
above was changed without so much as notifying the MCD about the said
change or obtaining its sanction for the same. Reliance was, in this
regard, placed by the Trial Court upon the depositions of R.N. Gupta,
Executive Engineer, MCD (PW-2) and Shri K.L. Grover, Electrical
Inspector (PW-24).
(3) The Trial Court also looked into the Rules regarding
installation of transformers in the Bureau of Indian Standard: 10028
(Part II) – 1981 and the Building Bye Laws, 1983 to hold that the
installation of the transformer in question did not adhere to the
following three distinct requirements under the rules:
(i) The two transformers namely one installed by the
management of the company owning the cinema and the other
installed by the DVB were not separated by a fire resistant
wall as required in Para 3.6.2, IS: 10028 (Part II) – 1981.
(ii) The transformers did not have oil soak pits necessary for
soaking the entire oil content in the transformers as
required in Paras 3.6.3 and 3.6.4, IS: 10028 (Part II) –
1981.
(iii) The rooms where the transformers were kept did not have
proper ventilation and free movement of air on all four
sides of the transformers, nor were adequately sized air
inlets and outlets provided to ensure efficient cooling of
the transformers as required in Paras 7.3.1.1 and 7.3.1.4,
IS: 10028 (Part II) – 1981.
(4) Having said so, the Trial Court rejected the contention urged on
behalf of the Ansal brothers (A-1 and A-2) that they were coerced into
providing space for the DVB transformer by the DVB authorities. The
Court found that correspondence exchanged between GPT and the DVB
authorities did not suggest that the Ansals were forced to provide
space for the DVB transformer as contended by them.

(c) That the condition of the DVB transformer was wholly unsatisfactory
and that the fire had started on account of the sparking of the loose
connection of the cable and socket of the bar of the said transformer.
(1) Relying upon the depositions of K.L. Grover, the Electrical
Inspector (PW-24), T.P. Sharma, CBRI Expert (PW-25), K.V. Singh,
Executive Engineer (Electrical), PWD (PW-35), Professor M.L. Kothari
from IIT (PW-36) and Dr. Rajinder Singh, Sr. Scientific Officer, CFSL,
(PW-64), as well as their respective inspection reports, marked Ex.
PW24/A, Ex. PW25/A, Ex. PW35/A, Ex. PW36/A and Ex. PW64/B, the Court
held that the condition of the DVB transformer was wholly
unsatisfactory on account of the following:
i) The transformer did not have any protection system as
required by the Electricity Act.
ii) The terminals on the LT side were not enclosed in a box,
unlike in the case of the Uphaar transformer.
iii) The LT side cables from the bus bar lacked any kind of
clamping system or support for the cables.
iv) There was no relay system connected to the HT Panel board of
the DVB transformer which could have tripped in case of any
fault.
v) The check nut of the neutral terminal was found to be loose.
vi) There were earth strips lying in the transformer room but
these were not properly joined.
vii) The connection between earth and neutral was also broken.
viii) The LT Panel’s outgoing switches did not have fuses.
ix) No HRC (High Rupture Capacity) fuses were found and use of
wires, in lieu of it was not proper.
x) All the four oil circuit breakers were completely unprotected
against earth faults and over current.
xi) The potential transformer was found to be in the disconnected
condition of the OCB operation mechanism. Its battery and
charger were also found to be defective and heavily damaged
in the fire.
(2) The Court further held that fire in the DVB transformer had
resulted on account of the sparking by the loose connection of the
cable end socket of the bus bar of the DVB transformer. The cable end
socket of the B-phase bus bar was unsatisfactorily repaired since it
was fixed by hammering and not by using a crimping machine. The LT
cable got disconnected from the cables on the B-phase and made a hole
in the radiator fin when the live conductor of the disconnected cable
fell upon it. Transformer oil gushed out of the opening on to the
floor, while continued short circuiting of the cable with the radiator
fin in the absence of a protection relay system caused sparking, which
in turn resulted in the oil from the transformer catching fire. The
sparking would have continued for a significant amount of time since
there was no immediate tripping system available in the HT panel.
Tripping was ultimately found to have taken place at the 33 KV sub-
station at AIIMS. The main switch from the generator which was going
to the AC blower was found to be fused. The fuses were found to be
inside the body of the switch. The condition of dust covered fuses
suggested that they had been out of use for a long time.
(d) That the parking of extra cars and the parking of cars close to the
transformer in what was meant to be a 16 ft. wide passage for free movement
of the vehicles aggravated the situation and contributed to the incident.
The Trial Court found that apart from petrol and diesel cars, CNG gas
cylinders and upholstery comprising combustible material emitted smoke when
burnt containing carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other hydrocarbons
which resulted in suffocation of those inside the balcony of the cinema.

(1) The Trial Court held that the management of the cinema had
disregarded the requirements of law and the sanctioned plan, thereby
putting the lives of the patrons at risk. The Court found that there
was nothing on record to show that the Ansal brothers (A-1 and A-2) or
the Managers of the cinema for that matter had impressed upon the
contractor appointed by them the legal and safety requirements of
maintaining a safe distance between vehicles and the transformer room
when they entered into a parking contract in the year 1988. This,
according to the Court, was gross negligence that contributed to the
death of a large number of patrons and injuries to many more. The
Trial Court in support of that conclusion relied primarily upon the
following pieces of evidence:

i) The sanctioned plan for the ground/stilt floor of the Uphaar
Cinema building as also the report of R.N. Gupta, Executive
Engineer, MCD (PW-2), according to which the provision for
parking of fifteen cars was made on the said floor. The plan
also earmarked a 16 feet wide passage to be maintained
alongside the transformer rooms for the easy maneuvering of
vehicles.
(ii) The deposition of R.K. Sethi (PW-56), the parking contractor,
proved that cars were parked at a distance of no more than 3-4
feet from the transformer room. On the fateful day parking
tokens had been issued for 18 cars for the matinee show, apart
from 8-10 office cars that were parked in the parking lot.

(iii) The deposition of K.V. Singh, Executive Engineer (Electrical),
PWD (PW-35) and the report marked Ex.PW35/A which proved that
the fire situation had been aggravated due to the presence of
petrol and diesel in the fuel tanks of the vehicles parked in
front of the transformer rooms.

(iv) Local Inspection Note of the place of incident prepared by the
Trial Court which supported the conclusion that cars had been
parked in close proximity to the transformer room and that the
same were burnt in the incident.

(2) Absence of proper care on the part of the management in ensuring
that only the permissible number of vehicles were parked in the
parking area and that a 16 ft. wide passage remained free from any
obstruction were held by the Trial Court to be acts of gross
negligence on the part of the management, endangering the lives of the
patrons visiting the cinema and contributing to the magnitude of the
hazardous gases that eventually led to the death of a large number of
innocent victims.

(e) That there were several structural deviations in the cinema building
apart from a rear wall behind the HT/LT room that was found to be
constructed up to a height of 12 feet even though it was sanctioned only up
to a height of 3 feet.

(1) Relying upon the deposition of B.S. Randhawa, ASW, PWD (PW-29)
and Ex. PW29/A, the panchnama/report of floor-wise deviations prepared
by him along with Dalip Singh, Executive Engineer, PWD and Prithvi
Singh, DSP, the Court held that the construction of the rear wall
beyond 3 feet had affected the ventilation in the area and obstructed
the dispersal of smoke in the atmosphere. The Court rejected the
contention that PW-29 had been tutored since he had made no mention of
the obstruction of smoke in the report, Ex. PW29/A. The Court found
that his testimony had been corroborated by the sanctioned plan Ex.
PW15/Y-3, which too only allowed a wall upto a height of 3 feet.

(2) Similarly, the Court found certain other structural deviations
in the cinema building some of which contributed to the fire, smoke
and obstruction of escape claiming human lives by asphyxia. The Court
in this regard placed reliance upon Ex. PW17/D, the report prepared by
R.K. Gupta, Junior Engineer, MCD (PW-17) and the deposition of R.S.
Sharma (PW-18) and Vinod Sharma (PW-20). The Court also placed
reliance upon Ex. PW2/A which happened to be the inspection-cum-
scrutiny report dated 2nd August, 1997 submitted by the MCD Engineers
depicting floor-wise deviations and deposition of R.N. Gupta,
Executive Engineer, MCD (PW-2) in that regard. Reliance was also
placed upon the depositions of R.K. Bhattacharaya (PW-39) and the
inspection note prepared by the Trial Court based on its inspection on
the spot as per the direction of the High Court. Based on the said
evidence the Trial Court enumerated the following structural
deviations in the Uphaar Cinema building:

Basement

(i) A 12′ X 20′ room was constructed adjoining the staircase.
(ii) A 26′ X 20′ room was constructed adjoining the blower room.
(iii) A wooden store with wooden partitions was being used.
(iv) One 40′ long and one 20′ long brick wall were constructed and
old seats were found partially filling the space between them.
Ground Floor/Stilt Floor

i) A 20′ X 9′ Homeopathy Dispensary was constructed above the ramp,
behind the transformer room.
ii) Behind the HT, LT and transformer rooms, the outer wall was
built up from a height of 3′ to the height of the first floor.
iii) Though externally unchanged, the partitions between the HT, LT
and transformer rooms were shifted to alter the rooms’ internal
sizes.
iv) A 14′ X 7′ room adjoining the HT room was being used as a ticket
counter.
v) A 20′ X 20′ ticket foyer was converted into Syndicate Bank.
Sanjay Press Office was found in place of the restaurant on the
front side.
vi) A mezzanine floor was constructed using R.S. Joists of timber,
at a height of 8′ above the stilt floor, to be used as offices.
This was completely burnt in the fire.
vii) A small construction was made using RCC slabs on the mid landing
of the staircase at a height of 8′ above the stilt floor to be
used as offices.
viii) M/s Sehgal Carpets was occupying a partition of the staircase
leading to the basement around the lift well.
Foyer/First Floor

(i) A refreshment counter was found constructed between the
expansion joint and the staircase.
(ii) A second refreshment counter was constructed near the rear exit
gate, 10’9” away from the auditorium exit gate.
Mezzanine Floor/Balcony

(i) A refreshment counter covering 21′ X 9′ was found between the
doors of the toilet and the staircase.
(ii) An office room was constructed in place of the sweeper room and
adjoining toilets.
(iii) The operator room was converted into an office-cum-bar room.
(iv) A door of full width on the right side of the staircase landing
between the Projection Room floor and the loft floor was found to be
obstructing the path to the terrace.
(v) Sarin Associates’ reception counter was found in the staircase
leading to the terrace, thereby obstructing the passage way.
Top Floor

i) A large hall at the loft level was converted into office
cabins with wooden partitions and the same appeared to be
occupied by Sarin Associates, Supreme Builders, Supreme
Promoters, Supreme Marketing (P) Ltd. And Vikky Arin Impex
(P) Ltd.
ii) The staircase above the loft level was converted into an
office.
(f) That, apart from structural deviations referred to above, the seating
arrangement within the balcony area of the cinema was itself in breach of
the mandatory requirements of the DCR, 1953 and DCR, 1981.

(1) Relying upon the Completion Certificate Ex. PW17/DA, dated 10th
April, 1973, the Trial Court held that the number of seats originally
sanctioned for the balcony was limited to 250 seats (two hundred and
fifty seats). The Court also noticed that the first seating plan Ex.
PW95/B1 was in conformity with the DCR, 1953 and provided a total of
three exits, one each on the two sides of the balcony and the third in
the middle. Gangways leading to these exits were also found to be in
conformity with the statutory requirements which prescribed a width of
44 inches for the same. In the year 1974, however, Sushil Ansal (A-1)
made a request for installation of 14 seats in what was originally
sanctioned by the MCD to be an Inspection Room, pursuant whereto the
Inspection Room was converted into a 14-seater box with the permission
of the licensing authority. Two years later, a development of some
significance took place inasmuch as by a Notification dated 30th
September, 1976 issued by the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Uphaar Cinema
permitted addition of 100 more seats to its existing capacity. Forty
three of the said additional seats were meant to be provided in the
balcony by using the vertical gangways to the right of the middle
entry/exit of the cinema in the right wing of the balcony. The
remaining 57 seats were meant for addition in the main auditorium of
the cinema hall. The addition of these seats was approved on 30th
September, 1976 as per the seating plan marked Ex. PW95/B-2.

(2) As per the above seating plan the vertical gangway along the
rightmost wall of the balcony was completely utilized and blocked
because of the installation of the additional seats whereas the width
of the gangway along the right side of the middle entry/exit was
reduced to 22.5 inches, the remainder of the space having been
utilized for fixing 32 additional seats in that area. The addition of
11 more seats to the row along the back of the balcony (1 on the
right, 8 in the middle and 2 on the left side) made up for the
remainder of the 43 additional seats permitted under the Notification.
The Trial Court found that in order to compensate for the blocking and
narrowing of the gangways in the right wing, the seating plan provided
for a 44 inch wide vertical gangway along the middle of the right wing
of the balcony. Inevitably, the altered seating arrangement made it
relatively more difficult for those occupying the right wing of the
balcony to reach the exit.

(g) That an eight-seater family box was added in the year 1978 upon an
application moved by Gopal Ansal (A-2), which had the effect of completely
closing the right side exit, access to which already stood compromised on
account of the additional seats.

(1) The above addition was made pursuant to a report given by S.N.
Dandona (A-12), since deceased, who at the relevant time was posted as
Executive Engineer, PWD and who appears to have inspected the site on
27th June, 1978 on a reference made to him by the Entertainment Tax
Officer. What is significant is that the Entertainment Tax Officer had
by his letter dated 2nd September, 1978 asked S.N. Dandona (A-12) to
confirm his report pursuant to the inspection conducted by him,
drawing his attention to Clause 6 of the First Schedule of DCR, 1953,
which required that the total number of spectators accommodated in the
building shall not exceed 20 per 100 sq. ft. of the area available for
sitting and standing, or 20 per 133.5 sq. ft. of the overall area of
the floor space in the auditorium. Mr. Dandona (A-12) replied in terms
of his letter dated 20th September, 1978 Ex. PW29/DN, that the
installation of the eight-seater box was in accordance with the
prevalent DCR, 1953.

(2) The Trial Court found fault with the installation of the eight-
seater box and held that even though permission for installation of
the box had been granted to the Ansals (A-1 and A-2), the same
continued to be in clear violation of Para 10(4) of the First Schedule
to DCR, 1953 which in no uncertain terms stipulated that exits from
the auditorium shall be placed suitably along both sides and along the
back thereof.

(h) That to compensate for blocking of the exit on the right of the eight-
seater box, an exit was provided along the back on the left side. This
addition of an exit on the left side of the balcony did not satisfy the
stipulation under Para 10(4) of the First Schedule of DCR, 1953.

(1) The object underlying para 10(4) of the First Schedule of DCR,
1953, observed the Trial Court, was to ensure rapid dispersal in both
directions through independent stairways leading outside the building.
This necessarily meant that addition of the left side exit did not
amount to substantial compliance with the DCR, 1953, declared the
Court.

(i) That addition of seats and closure of the right side gangway were in
violation of the statutory provisions and severely compromised the need for
quick dispersal in the event of an emergency.

(1) A further development and another dimension to the seating
arrangement in the balcony came in the form of a Notification dated
27th July, 1979, from the Lt. Governor whereunder the relaxation in
the number of seats provided to Uphaar Cinema under the 1976
Notification was withdrawn. The withdrawal, it appears, came as a
consequence of a judgment delivered by the High Court of Delhi in a
writ petition filed by the cinema owners challenging the State’s power
to fix the price of admission tickets to the theatre. The power to fix
admission rates to the cinema having thus been taken away, the Lt.
Governor appears to have withdrawn the relaxation in the number of
additional seats allowed to the cinema owners under the 1976
Notification. This withdrawal was not acceptable to the Ansals (A-1
and A-2) along with others who challenged the same before the High
Court of Delhi and obtained interim directions in their favour. The
High Court directed that such of the additional seats as comply
substantially with the requirements of the Rules may be allowed to
stay while others which infringed the Rules may have to be removed. A
show-cause notice was accordingly issued to Uphaar Cinema asking it to
remove all the 100 additional seats, which according to the licensing
authority were non-compliant with the requirement of the relevant
Rules. Gopal Ansal (A-2) opposed the removal of these seats in the
reply filed by him as Director of GPT Pvt. Ltd. stating that all the
additional seats installed by them were compliant with the
Cinematograph Rules and requested the authorities to apply their minds
to the direction of the High Court regarding substantial compliance
with the Rules.

(2) A fresh process of inspection of the Cinema was therefore
started, pursuant to the direction of the High Court and the show-
cause notice. This inspection was conducted by Mr. Amod Kanth, DCP
(L), S.N. Dandona, Executive Engineer, MCD (A-12) and the Chief Fire
Officer and Executive Engineer, all of whom had submitted a joint
report Ex.PW29/DR. The report, inter alia, stated that 37 of the 43
additional seats in the balcony were substantially compliant with the
Rules while 6 additional seats on the right side of the balcony were
in gross contravention of Paras 7(1) and 8(1) of the First Schedule to
DCR, 1953 as they were blocking vertical gangways and causing
obstruction to free egress of patrons from the balcony. The said 6
seats were, therefore, required to be removed and the original number
of vertical gangways restored. The result was that 37 additional
seats were allowed out of 43 to stay in the balcony in terms of order
dated 24th December, 1979 marked Ex. PW29/DR passed by Mr. Amod Kanth,
DCP (L).

(3) In his letter dated 29th July, 1980, Gopal Ansal (A-2), Director
of GPT wrote a letter Ex. PW110/AA7 to the DCP(L) for installation of
15 additional seats in the balcony. Pursuant to the said letter, the
DCP (L) wrote a letter dated 20th August, 1980 (Ex. PW29/DS) to the
Executive Engineer, requesting him to verify whether the proposed
installation of 15 seats would be compliant with the relevant
provisions of the DCR, 1953 and to submit a detailed report regarding
the same. In his reply dated 3rd September, 1980, Executive Engineer,
S.N. Dandona (A-12) stated that the proposed installation of seats was
not in accordance with the scheme of the DCR, 1953. Gopal Ansal (A-2),
therefore, submitted a revised plan for the proposed additional seats
vide letter dated 5th September, 1980 (Ex. PW29/DV). In his report Ex.
PW29/DX dated 10th September, 1980 S.N. Dandona (A-12) stated that the
additional 15 seats would be in conformity with DCR, 1953, but raised
a concern that the installation of the 15 additional seats would bring
the total number of seats in the balcony to 302 while the total number
of exits would remain 3 in number. As per the First Schedule of the
DCR, 1953, the number of exits should be 1 per 100 seats. This would
imply that 2 additional seats in the balcony would be in excess,
unless a fourth exit was to be provided. Having said that, S.N.
Dandona (A-12) excused this excess on the grounds that it was decided
in a meeting held in October, 1979 in which the DCP(L) and Chief Fire
Officer were present that, keeping in view the High Court’s orders for
substantial compliance, an excess of 1% in the number of seats over
the required number of exits should be allowed. Pursuant to S.N.
Dandona’s report, the DCP(L), Amod Kanth allowed the installation of
the 15 additional seats in the balcony on 4th October, 1980. The
result was that 15 additional seats were installed as per the seating
plan marked Ex. PW95/B4. The Trial Court further found that DCP(L),
Amod Kanth, S.N. Dandona (A-12), Chief Fire Officer and Executive
Engineer were equally responsible for not noticing the closure of the
right side exit.

(4) The Trial Court found that the addition of seats as also closure
of the right side exit because of installation of the family box in
that area, in the process blocking one vertical gangway, narrowing of
another and partial blocking of the third (new) exit on the left side
of the balcony were all in violation of the statutory provisions and
severely compromised the safety of the patrons visiting the cinema.
The Trial Court also held that because of the alterations in the
seating plan on account of the addition of seats and blocking of the
right side exit, rapid dispersal of the patrons in the event of an
emergency was seriously jeopardized, which amounted to gross
negligence on the part of the owners and management of Uphaar Cinema,
as well as those who were responsible for sanctioning the changes.

(5) The Trial Court, in fact, went a step further and ordered
further investigation of the offence under Section 173(8) of the CrPC
vis-a-vis the persons left out by the CBI, particularly the DCP(L),
Amod Kanth against whom the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy
had filed an application under Section 319 of the CrPC. The Trial
Court held that the balcony seating plans showed that the authorities
responsible for the enforcement of the Rules as well as their
subordinates who were to carry out inspections were in connivance with
the proprietors of the cinema, Sushil and Gopal Ansal (A-1 and A-2)
who acted in connivance with each other with a view to making an
unlawful gain at the cost of the public.

(j) That the owners of Uphaar Cinema who carried out the structural
deviations, the officers of the MCD who granted ‘No Objection’ certificates
for running the cinema hall for the years 1995-96 and 1996-97 respectively
despite the structural deviations existing in the cinema building and the
managers of Uphaar Cinema who turned a blind eye to the said deviations and
the threat to public safety caused by them, were the direct cause of death
of 59 persons and 100 injured in the cinema hall. The act of the gatekeeper
in fleeing from the cinema hall without unbolting the door of balcony was
also found to be a direct cause of the death of persons inside the balcony.
(1) As regards the unfolding of events in the balcony after the
smoke began to spread inside, the Trial Court relied upon the
depositions of patrons seated in the balcony, PWs 1, 3, 7, 8, 11 & 12
who were fortunate to survive the ordeal, but all of whom had lost in
the tragedy some of their relatives who accompanied them to the movie.
The Trial Court also relied upon the depositions of relatives of
deceased patrons from the balcony, examined as PWs 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13
& 66, who were not among those in the cinema hall themselves but who
had rushed to the scene upon learning about the disaster. The
deposition of the complainant Security Guard, Sudhir Kumar (PW63) who
first noticed the fire and helped in rescue operations was also relied
upon. Relying upon the above evidence, the Trial Court arrived at the
following conclusions:

i) Since the patrons were trapped inside the balcony which was
engulfed by the smoke, those who succumbed died due to
inhalation of smoke.
ii) The patrons seated in the balcony were unable to save
themselves in time since there were no proper means of
escape.
iii) Though four exits were statutorily required in the balcony,
only three were provided.
iv) As previously held, the alterations made to the balcony by
the owners of Uphaar Cinema in contravention of legal
provisions became a hindrance to egress into the open air for
patrons in the balcony, as a result of which the said patrons
could not save themselves in time.
v) Three exit doors were bolted. After becoming aware of the
fire in the building, the gatekeeper, Manmohan Uniyal (A-8)
fled the scene without unbolting the exit doors.
vi) Since the doors had been bolted, one of the doors had to be
pushed open by the trapped patrons in order to come out into
open space. This endeavour took 10-15 minutes, which resulted
in a sufficient amount of exposure to the toxic gases to
cause the death of the persons inhaling the same.
vii) Moreover, since descending the staircase would only take the
patrons into denser smoke, people attempted to climb upwards
towards the terrace. However, their path was obstructed due
to the unauthorised construction of the commercial office of
M/s Sareen Associates on the landing of the staircase on the
top floor, which created a bottleneck and facilitated in
causing the death of more patrons. Moreover, one of the
structural deviations previously noted by the Trial Court was
the presence of a full width door on the right side of the
stair case landing on the top floor, which created an
obstruction for going to the terrace.
viii) It is revealed from the inspection reports that the four
exhaust fans which were to face an open space instead opened
out into the staircase.
ix) As previously held, the existing structural deviations in the
building obstructed the egress of patrons into open spaces
and thereby directly contributed to their deaths. These
blatant structural deviations were never objected to by the
MCD, a government body which is responsible for ensuring
compliance with building plans.
x) The eye-witnesses have unanimously deposed that once they
realized that smoke was entering the hall and a hue and cry
was raised, no one from the management of the cinema theatre
was there to help them escape. Instead, the managers fled the
scene without thought for the patrons.
xi) There were no fire alarms or emergency lighting, nor was any
public announcement made to warn the patrons of the fire.
xii) As per the deposition of the Projector Operator, Madhukar
Bagde (PW85), an announcement system was present in the
Projector Room but the same was out of order. He deposed that
he had previously informed K.L. Malhotra (A-4), since
deceased, to have the same rectified. This fact was also
verified in the report of PW64, Dr. Rajinder Singh.
xiii) The managers being directly responsible for the daily
functioning of the cinema failed in their duty to ensure the
safety of the patrons seated inside. They grossly neglected
their duties to take measures to prevent fires and follow
fire safety regulations, which caused the death of patrons
trapped inside.
xiv) It is writ large that the failure of the owners and
management of Uphaar Cinema to adhere to provisions relating
to fire safety caused the death/injury of those who had gone
to view the film in the cinema.
xv) The factors which constituted the direct and proximate cause
of death of 59 persons and injury of 100 persons in Uphaar
cinema were the installation of the DVB transformer in
violation of law, faulty repair of the DVB transformer,
presence of combustible material in the cinema building,
parking of cars near the transformer room, alterations in the
balcony obstructing egress, structural deviations resulting
in closure of escape routes in the building at the time of
the incident, bolting of the exit doors from outside and the
absence of fire fighting measures and two trained firemen,
during the exhibition of the film in the cinema building.

(k) That the cause of death of the 59 victims was asphyxia caused by
prolonged inhalation of smoke consisting of carbon monoxide and other toxic
gases.

(1) On the basis of the result of the post-mortem examination on the
dead body of Captain M.S. Bhinder, the Trial Court held that all the
victims died on account of the very same cause as was found to be
responsible for the demise of Captain Bhinder. Reliance was also
placed by the Trial Court upon the reports submitted by a Board of
Medical Experts from AIIMS which proposed that the death of 59 victims
of asphyxia was caused due to inhalation of smoke consisting of carbon
monoxide and other toxic gases. On the basis of the expert opinion,
the Court concluded that the cause of death of the persons sitting in
the balcony was due to inhalation of smoke. The Court noted that the
effect of gases is rapid as the fatal period for carbon monoxide with
10% concentration is within 20-30 minutes while the fatal period of
hydrocyanic acid is 2-20 minutes. The combustion of materials released
such toxic compounds, which in turn caused rapid death of the victims.
The Court also held that immediate well-organized intensive rescue
operations could have saved many lives.

28. In conclusion and on the basis of the findings recorded by it, the
Trial Court convicted Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2) for
commission of the offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337 and 338 read
with Section 36 of IPC and sentenced each one of them to undergo rigorous
imprisonment for a period of two years with a fine of Rs.5,000/- and a
default sentence of six months. They were also convicted under Section 14
of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 and sentenced to pay a fine of Rs.1,000/- or
undergo two months imprisonment in default. All the sentences were directed
to run concurrently. The Trial Court further convicted S.S. Sharma (A-13)
and N.D. Tiwari (A-14) who were officials of the Municipal Corporation of
Delhi apart from H.S. Panwar (A-15), Divisional Officer, Delhi Fire Service
under the above provisions and sentenced them similarly to undergo two
years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.5,000/- besides default
sentence of six months imprisonment. In addition, the Trial Court found the
charges framed against the Managers of GPT, namely, R.K. Sharma (A-5), N.S.
Chopra (A-6) and Assistant Manager Ajit Choudhary (A-7) as well as
gatekeeper Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) under Section 304 read with Section 36 IPC
proved and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of
seven years with a fine of Rs.5,000/- and a default sentence of six months.
29. B.M. Satija (A-9) and A.K. Gera (A-10) who happened to be DVB
Inspectors at the relevant point of time and Bir Singh (A-11) who happened
to be DVB Senior Fitter were similarly convicted under Section 304 read
with Section 36 IPC and sentenced to undergo seven years rigorous
imprisonment besides a fine of Rs.5,000/- and a default sentence of six
months imprisonment. Proceedings against R.M. Puri (A-3), Director of GPT
and K.L. Malhotra (A-4) Deputy General Manager, S.N. Dandona (A-12)
Executive Engineer, PWD and Surender Dutt (A-16) Station Officer, Delhi
Fire Service, all of whom died during the pendency of the trial, were held
to have abated. Not only that, the Trial Court directed further
investigation into the matter under Section 173(8) Cr.P.C. in regard to
other persons including Amod Kanth DCP(L) for allowing the cinema to
function on temporary permits and for not demanding the detailed inspection
reports before issuing such permits.

Findings of the High Court:

30. Aggrieved by the judgment and order passed against them, all the 12
accused persons convicted by the Trial Court preferred appeals before the
Delhi High Court. The Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy also filed a
revision petition challenging the judgment and order of the Trial Court to
the extent the same convicted the accused persons only for offences
punishable under Section 304A IPC instead of Section 304, Part II IPC. The
High Court, as noticed in the beginning of this order, disposed of the
aforementioned appeal by a common judgment dated 19th December, 2008
whereby the High Court affirmed the findings of fact recorded by the Trial
Court. We may at this stage briefly refer to the said findings for the
sake of clarity.

I Re: Ownership, Management and Control of Uphaar Cinema:

(i) In para 9.68 of its judgment the High Court held that the
ownership, management and control of Uphaar Cinema vested with the Ansal
brothers (A-1 and A-2) at all material times.

(ii) In para 9.62 of its judgment the High Court affirmed the findings
recorded by the Trial Court and held that Ansal brothers (A-1 and A-2) were
responsible for all major decisions in regard to management and affairs of
the Uphaar Cinema such as:

(a) The decision regarding installation of DVB transformer within
the cinema premises.

(b) The decision relating to re-arrangement of seating plan in the
balcony which was in violation of DCR, 1953 and DCR, 1981.

(c) The decision regarding closure of right side exit by
installation of eight-seater family box.

(d) The decision regarding placement of additional seats in the
balcony.

(e) The grant of contracts for use of parking space.

(f) The exercise of unlimited financial powers on behalf of the
company and the power to create encumbrances and charges over its
assets.

(g) The decision relating to commercial use of the building.

(h) The decisions concerning day-to-day affairs of the company.

(iii) In paras 9.63 and 9.64 the High Court held that the Ansals (A-1 and A-
2) were not only the Directors of the company but had continued to be
involved in its day-to-day functioning even after they ceased to be so.

(iv) The High Court further held that merely because the letter dated 6th
March, 1997 had presented R.M. Puri and K.L. Malhotra (both since deceased)
as authorised signatories of the company for operating the cinema and for
dealing with the licensing authority did not mean that a specific
nomination in their favour was made in terms of Rule 10(2) of DCR, 1953 or
the corresponding provision under DCR, 1981. The High Court held that the
shareholding pattern of the company revealed that the major/predominant
shareholding continued to remain with the Ansal family and at no point of
time was any outsider shown to have held any of the 5000 shares issued by
the company.

(v) In para 9.67 of its judgment the High Court held that from the
deposition of those shown to be the Directors of the company in the year
1996 to 1997, it is evident that even though they had attended certain
meetings of the Board, they were completely unaware of the vital aspects
including the fact that Uphaar Cinema was being run by Ansal Theatres and
Clubotels Pvt. Ltd. and whether they were in fact Directors or empowered to
act on behalf of the company.

II Re: DVB Transformer:

(i) In para 7.4 the High Court held that the DVB transformer had been
installed against the provision of the Electricity Rules.

(ii) In paras 7.10 and 7.12 of its judgment the High Court rejected the
submission made on behalf of Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2) that
they were coerced in providing space for the DVB transformer.

(iii) In paras 7.94, 7.95 and 7.96 of its judgment the High Court affirmed
the findings recorded by the Trial Court that the DVB transformer was in
poor maintenance on the date of the incident on account of the following:

A) Protection relays which could have tripped off the DVB
transformer were missing.

B) The LT side cables from the bus bar did not have clamping system
or support to the cables.

C) The earth cable was in a twisted condition; and

D) The Buchholtz relay system was not fitted on the transformer.

31. The High Court comprehensively dealt with the cause of fire and
affirmed the findings recorded by the Trial Court that the fire had started
from the DVB transformer on account of the improper repair carried out on
the same without use of a crimping machine because of which the LT cable
had got disconnected on the B-phase and an opening was created on the
radiator fin when the live cable fell upon it and caused a short circuit.
The High Court summed up the cause of the fire in paras 7.124 and 7.125 of
its judgment.

32. The High Court held that the correspondence relating to the
installation of the DVB transformer did not suggest any element of threat
or use of force or economic power on the part of the DVB. On the contrary,
the correspondence revealed an anxiety on the part of cinema management to
start its operation. It also held in paras 7.10 and 7.11 of its judgment
that the Uphaar establishment was a beneficiary of the DVB transformer
since some parts of the building which were let out to tenants of the
establishment were receiving electricity supply from the said transformer.
III Re: Car Parking:

33. In para 7.17 of its judgment the High Court affirmed the findings
recorded by the Trial Court that the parking of extra cars and the parking
of cars close to the transformer room blocking the 16 ft. wide passage
which was meant to be kept free for the movement of vehicles, aggravated
the fire and contributed to the incident. The High Court held that the
owners and the management of Uphaar Cinema had blatantly disregarded the
requirements of law and the sanctioned plan thereby putting the lives of
its patrons at risk. The High Court further held that Ansal brothers (A-1
and A-2) or the Managers had not conveyed to the parking contractor the
legal and safety requirement of maintaining a safe distance between the
vehicles and the transformer room while entering into a parking contract in
the year 1988 nor was the parking arrangement subject to any kind of check.
The outsourcing of the car parking did not, observed the High Court,
absolve the cinema management which was the occupier and owner of the
premises of their duty to ensure that vehicles parked immediately below the
viewing area were maintained keeping all safety standards in mind.

IV Re: Structural Deviations:

34. In paras 7.39 to 7.60 of its judgment the High Court affirmed the
findings recorded by the Trial Court that several structural deviations
apart from violation in the balcony had been committed by the management of
the cinema hall. The High Court held that construction of refreshment
counters on the first floor of the cinema hall inhibited free passage of
the patrons which was crucial in the event of an emergency and amounted to
violation of para 10(1) of the First Schedule of DCR, 1953 and were hence
in breach of the provisions of Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act and the
licence issued thereunder. Similarly, the exhaust fans were so placed that
they opened into the hall of the front staircase instead of opening into an
open space. The structural deviations, according to the High Court, assumed
an incrementally risky character which the cinema occupier was aware of.
Similarly, the other violations referred to by the High Court including the
storage and use of combustible materials and closing of one of the exits,
besides shifting of the gangway contributed to violations that prevented
quick dispersal of the patrons from the balcony area thereby culminating in
the tragedy.

V Re: Seating arrangement in the balcony:

35. The High Court dealt with blocking of the right side exit by placing
an 8-seater family box, addition of seats on the left side of the balcony
that prevented quick dispersal of the patrons, providing gangways which
were less than the required width and fixing of seats obstructing the left
side (new) exit all of which contributed to a situation from which the
victims could not escape to save their lives. The High Court further held
that blocking of the right side exit by the 8-seater box rendered
ineffective the mandate of para 9(1), DCR, 1953 which required that at
least two stairways be provided for public use each not less than 4 ft.
wide. Each one of these deviations had, according to the High Court, the
effect of substantially increasing the risk to a point where an emergency
requiring rapid egress from the balcony area could not have been
effectively handled to save human lives.

36. The High Court also affirmed the findings of the Trial Court on the
following aspect and held that –

(i) Patrons were exposed to smoke for a long time and many were unable to
leave the place swiftly.

(ii) Several eye witnesses had deposed that the balcony doors were bolted.

iii) The entry/exit doors leading to the foyer had to be forced open.

iv) The gatekeeper, Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) who was on duty at the time
of the incident, had left his duty without unbolting the doors.

v) Absence of emergency lighting arrangements and absence of help at
the critical juncture exposed the patrons to thick dense smoke for
a long period that hindered their movement and finally claimed
many lives.

(vi) No public address system was in use nor were there any emergency
lights.

(vii) The cause of death was asphyxiation due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

(viii) Many patrons who had managed to escape from the balcony were trapped
and had to break the open windows to flee.

(ix) Eye witness accounts established the presence of fire and hot smoke
in the ground floor from 5.05 pm to 6.20 p.m. and the presence of
smoke in the balcony even as late as 5.45 p.m. when the Chief Fire
Officer removed 3 persons from the balcony.

37. The High Court on the above findings upheld the conviction of Sushil
Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2). It also upheld the conviction of H.S.
Panwar (A-15) for offences punishable under Sections 304A, 337 and 338 read
with Section 36 of the IPC but reduced the sentence awarded to them under
Section 304A to one year rigorous imprisonment without interfering with the
fine imposed by the Trial Court. The High Court also reduced the sentence
awarded to the aforementioned three appellants under Section 337 to three
months rigorous imprisonment and under Section 338 to one year rigorous
imprisonment with the direction that the sentences shall run concurrently
including the sentence awarded to Ansal brothers (A-1 and A-2) under
Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act for which too the said two accused
persons were convicted.

38. As regards the conviction of Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) gatekeeper, B.M.
Satija (A-9) DVB Inspector and Bir Singh (A-11) Senior Fitter DVB, the High
Court altered the same from Section 304 Part II read with Section 36 IPC to
Sections 304A , 337 and 338 read with Section 36 IPC. The sentence awarded
to them was accordingly reduced to two years rigorous imprisonment with a
fine of Rs.2,000/- under Section 304A, 6 months rigorous imprisonment with
a fine of Rs.500/- under Section 337 and one year rigorous imprisonment
with a fine of Rs.1,000/- under Section 338 with a default sentence of four
months. The sentences were directed to run concurrently.

39. The remaining convicted persons, namely, R.K. Sharma (A-5), since
deceased, N.S. Chopra (A-6) as well as A.K. Gera (A-10) DVB Inspector, S.S.
Sharma (A-13) and N.D. Tiwari (A-14), MCD Officials were acquitted by the
High Court and the revision petition filed by Association of Victims of
Uphaar Tragedy dismissed.

40. Appeals have been filed before us by all those convicted and
sentenced to undergo imprisonment by the High Court, except for the
convicted gatekeeper, Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) who has served out the sentence
awarded to him by the Courts below. We also have before us Criminal Appeals
No.605-616 of 2010 filed by the CBI challenging the acquittal recorded by
the High Court in favour of the four persons mentioned above. The
Association of Victims of Uphaar Cinema has also filed Criminal Appeals
No.600-602 of 2010 in which they have challenged the order of acquittal
recorded by the High Court and prayed for a retrial of the accused persons
for the offence punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC.

41. We have heard learned counsel for the parties at considerable length,
who were at pains to refer to the evidence adduced at the trial to buttress
their respective submissions. Broadly stated the following questions arise
for our determination:

I) Whether the concurrent findings of fact recorded by the Courts
below prove the commission of any rash and/or negligent act by the
accused persons or any one of them within the meaning of Section
304A of the IPC?

II) Was the High Court justified in acquitting the Respondents no.4
(N.S. Chopra), no.7 (A.K. Gera), no.10 (S.S. Sharma) and no.11
(N.D. Tiwari) respondent in Criminal Appeal No.605-616 of 2010
filed by the CBI?

(III) Is there any basis for holding that the accused or any one of them
was guilty of an offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder
punishable under Section 304 Part II of the IPC so as to justify a
retrial of the accused persons for the said offence?

(IV) Whether the sentence awarded to those found guilty by the High Court
deserves to be enhanced?

(V) What relief and/or general or specific directions need be issued in
the matter having regard to the nature of the incident?

42. We propose to deal with the above questions ad seriatim.

Re: Question No.I:

43. Since this question has several facets to it, we propose to deal with
the same under the following sub-headings to ensure clarity and avoid any
possible confusion or repetition:

i) Scope of a criminal appeal by special leave

ii) ‘Rash’ or ‘Negligent’ – Meaning of

iii) What constitutes negligence?

iv) Difference between Negligence in civil actions and that in criminal
cases.

v) The doctrine of causa causans.

vi) Whether Ansal brothers were occupiers of Uphaar Cinema building?

vii) Degree and nature of care expected of an occupier of a cinema
building.

viii) Whether the accused were negligent and if so, whether the
negligence was gross?

ix) Contentions urged in defence and the findings thereon.

(i) Scope of a Criminal Appeal by Special Leave:

44. The scope of a criminal appeal by special leave filed before this
Court has been examined in several pronouncements of this Court over the
past few decades. It is unnecessary to burden this judgment by referring to
all those pronouncements, for a reference to only some of those decisions
should suffice. Among them the scope of an appeal by special leave in a
criminal matter was considered by a three-Judge Bench of this Court in Mst.
Dalbir Kaur v. State of Punjab (1976) 4 SCC 158 and the principle governing
interference by this Court in criminal appeals by special leave summarized
in the following words:

“8. Thus the principles governing interference by this Court in
a criminal appeal by special leave may be summarised as follows:

(1) that this Court would not interfere with
the concurrent finding of fact based on pure appreciation of
evidence even if it were to take a different view on the
evidence;
(2) that the Court will not normally enter into a
reappraisement or review of the evidence, unless the
assessment of the High Court is vitiated by an error of law
or procedure or is based on error of record, misreading of
evidence or is inconsistent with the evidence, for instance,
where the ocular evidence is totally inconsistent with the
medical evidence and so on;

(3) that the Court would not enter into credibility of the
evidence with a view to substitute its own opinion for that
of the High Court;

(4) that the Court would interfere where the High Court has
arrived at a finding of fact in disregard of a judicial
process, principles of natural justice or a fair hearing or
has acted in violation of a mandatory provision of law or
procedure resulting in serious prejudice or injustice to the
accused;
(5) this Court might also interfere where on the
proved facts wrong inferences of law have been drawn or where
the conclusions of the High Court are manifestly perverse and
based on no evidence: It is very difficult to lay down a rule
of universal application but the principles mentioned above
and those adumbrated in the authorities of this Court cited
supra provide sufficient guidelines for this Court to decide
criminal appeals by special leave. Thus in a criminal appeal
by special leave, this Court at the hearing examines the
evidence and the judgment of the High Court with the limited
purpose of determining whether or not the High Court has
followed the principles enunciated above. Where the Court
finds that the High Court has committed no violation of the
various principles laid down by this Court and has made a
correct approach and has not ignored or overlooked striking
features in the evidence which demolish the prosecution case,
the findings of fact arrived at by the High Court on an
appreciation of the evidence in the circumstances of the case
would not be disturbed.”

45. In Radha Mohan Singh @ Lal Sahib and Ors. v. State of U.P. (2006) 2
SCC 450, this Court declared that it will not normally enter into
reappraisal or review of evidence in an appeal under Article 136 of the
Constitution unless the Trial Court or the High Court is shown to have
committed an error of law or procedure and the conclusions arrived at are
found to be perverse. To the same effect is the decision of this Court in
Raj Narain Singh v. State of U.P. and Ors. (2009) 10 SCC 362, where this
Court held that the scope of appeal under Article 136 of the Constitution
was very limited and that this Court does not exercise overriding powers
under the said provision to reweigh the evidence and disturb the concurrent
findings of fact reached upon proper appreciation. We may also refer to the
decision of this Court in Surendra Pal and Ors. v. State of U.P. and Anr.
(2010) 9 SCC 399 where this Court held that it could not embark upon a re-
appreciation of the evidence when both the Sessions Court and the High
Court had agreed in their appreciation of the evidence and arrived at
concurrent findings of fact. This Court cautioned that it was necessary to
bear in mind the limited scope of the proceedings under Article 136 of the
Constitution which cannot be converted into a third appeal on facts and
that mere errors are not enough to attract this Court’s invigilatory
jurisdiction. A similar view was expressed by this Court in Amitava
Banerjee v. State of West Bengal (2011) 12 SCC 554 and Mohd. Arif v. State
(NCT) of Delhi, (2011) 13 SCC 621 to which decisions one of us (Thakur, J.)
was a party.

46. Suffice it to say that this Court is not an ordinary Court of appeal
obliged to reappraise the evidence and record its conclusion. The
jurisdiction to interfere under Article 136 is extraordinary and the power
vested in this Court is not exercised to upset concurrent findings of fact
recorded by the two Courts below on a proper appreciation of evidence. It
is only in those rare and exceptional cases where the appreciation of
evidence is found to be wholly unsatisfactory or the conclusion drawn from
the same perverse in nature, causing miscarriage of justice that this Court
may correct the course of justice and undo the wrong. Perversity in the
findings, illegality or irregularity in the trial that results in injustice
or failure to take into consideration an important piece of evidence are
some of the situations in which this Court may reappraise the evidence
adduced at the trial but not otherwise. The scope of interference with the
findings of fact concurrently found by the Trial Court and the First
Appellate Court is thus permissible as a rarity only in the situations
enumerated above and not as a matter of course or for mere asking.

(ii) ‘Rash’ or ‘Negligent’ – Meaning of:

47. Section 304A of the IPC makes any act causing death by a rash or
negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, punishable with
imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years
or with fine or with both. It reads:

“304A. Causing death by negligence.– 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.”
48. The terms ‘rash’ or ‘negligent’ appearing in Section 304A extracted
above have not been defined in the Code. Judicial pronouncements have all
the same given a meaning which has been long accepted as the true purport
of the two expressions appearing in the provisions. One of the earliest of
these pronouncements was in Empress of India v. Idu Beg ILR (1881) 3 All
776, where Straight J. explained that in the case of a rash act, the
criminality lies in running the risk of doing an act with recklessness or
indifference as to consequences. A similar meaning was given to the term
‘rash’ by the High Court of Madras in In Re: Nidamarti Negaghushanam 7 Mad
HCR 119, where the Court held that culpable rashness meant acting with the
consciousness that a mischievous and illegal consequence may follow, but
hoping that it will not. Culpability in the case of rashness arises out of
the person concerned acting despite the consciousness. These meanings given
to the expression ‘rash’, have broadly met the approval of this Court also
as is evident from a conspectus of decisions delivered from time to time,
to which we shall presently advert. But before we do so, we may refer to
the following passage from “A Textbook of Jurisprudence” by George
Whitecross Paton reliance whereupon was placed by Mr. Jethmalani in support
of his submission. Rashness according to Paton means “where the actor
foresees possible consequences, but foolishly thinks they will not occur as
a result of his act”.

49. In the case of ‘negligence’ the Courts have favoured a meaning which
implies a gross and culpable neglect or failure to exercise that reasonable
and proper care and precaution to guard against injury either to the public
generally or to an individual which having regard to all the circumstances
out of which the charge arises, it may be the imperative duty of the
accused to have adopted. Negligence has been understood to be an omission
to do something which a reasonable man guided upon those considerations
which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing
something which a prudent and reasonable person would not do. Unlike
rashness, where the imputability arises from acting despite the
consciousness, negligence implies acting without such consciousness, but in
circumstances which show that the actor has not exercised the caution
incumbent upon him. The imputability in the case of negligence arises from
the neglect of the civil duty of circumspection.

(iii) What constitutes Negligence?:

50. The expression ‘negligence’ has also not been defined in the Penal
Code, but, that has not deterred the Courts from giving what has been
widely acknowledged as a reasonably acceptable meaning to the term. We may
before referring to the judicial pronouncements on the subject refer to the
dictionary meaning of the term ‘negligence’.

51. Black’s Law Dictionary defines negligence as under:

“The failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably
prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation; any
conduct that falls below the legal standard established to
protect others against unreasonable risk of harm, except for
conduct that is intentionally, wantonly, or willfully
disregardful of other’s rights.”
52. Charlesworth and Percy on Negligence (Twelfth Edition) gives three
meanings to negligence in forensic speech viz: (i) in referring to a state
of mind, when it is distinguished in particular from intention; (ii) in
describing conduct of a careless type; and (iii) as the breach of a duty to
take care imposed by either common law or statute. The three meanings are
then explained thus:

“The first meaning: Negligence as a state of mind can be
contrasted with intention. An act is intentional when it is
purposeful and done with the desire or object of producing a
particular result. In contrast, negligence in the present sense
arises where someone either fails to consider a risk of
particular action, or having considered it, fails to give the
risk appropriate weight.

The second meaning: Negligence can also be used as a way to
characterize conduct, although such a use may lead to imprecision
when considering negligence as a tort. Careless conduct does not
necessarily give rise to breach of a duty of care, the defining
characteristic of the tort of negligence. The extent of a duty
of care and the standard of care required in performance of that
duty are both relevant in considering whether, on any given facts
conduct which can be characterized as careless, is actionable in
law.

“The third meaning: The third meaning of negligence, and the one
with which this volume is principally concerned, is conduct
which, objectively considered, amounts to breach of a duty to
take care”.
53. Clerk & Lindsell on Torts (Eighteenth Edition) sets out the following
four separate requirements of the tort of negligence:
“(1) the existence in law of a duty of care situation, i.e. one
in which the law attaches liability to carelessness. There has
to be recognition by law that the careless infliction of the
kind of damages in suit on the class of person to which the
claimant belongs by the class of person to which the defendant
belongs is actionable;
(2) breach of the duty of care by the defendant, i.e., that it
failed to measure up to the standard set by law;
(3) a casual connection between the defendant’s careless conduct
and the damage;
(4) that the particular kind of damage to the particular
claimant is not so unforeseeable as to be too remote.”
54. Law of Torts by Rattanlal & Dhirajlal, explains negligence in the
following words:

“Negligence is the breach of a duty caused by the omission to do
something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations
which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do,
or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not
do. Actionable negligence consists in the neglect of the use of
ordinary care or skill towards a person to whom the defendant
owes the duty of observing ordinary care and skill, by which
neglect the plaintiff has suffered injury to his person or
property. According to Winfield, “negligence as a tort is the
breach of a legal duty to take care which results in damage,
undesired by the defendant to the plaintiff”. The definition
involves three constituents of negligence: (1) A legal duty to
exercise due care on the part of the party complained of towards
the party complaining the former’s conduct within the scope of
the duty; (2) Breach of the said duty; and (3) consequential
damage. Cause of action for negligence arises only when damage
occurs for damage is a necessary ingredient of this tort. But
as damage may occur before it is discovered; it is the
occurrence of damage which is the starting point of the cause of
action.
55. The above was approved by this Court in Jacob Mathew v. State of
Punjab and Another (2005) 6 SCC 1.

56. The duty to care in cases whether civil or criminal including injury
arising out of use of buildings is examined by courts, vis-à-vis occupiers
of such bindings. In Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad, 248 NY 339, Justice
Cardozo explained the orbit of the duty of care of an occupier as under:
“If no hazard was apparent to the eye of ordinary vigilance, an
act innocent and harmless, at least to outward seeming with
reference to her, did not take to itself the quality of a tort
because it happened to be a wrong, though apparently not one
involving the risk of bodily insecurity, with reference to
someone else…Even then, the orbit of the danger as disclosed
to the eye of reasonable vigilance would be the orbit of the
duty.”

57. To the same effect is the decision in Hartwell v. Grayson Rollo and
Clover Docks Limited and Others (1947) KB 901 where the duty of an occupier
who invites people to a premises, to take reasonable care that the place
does not contain any danger or to inform those coming to the premises of
the hidden dangers, if any, was explained thus:

“In my opinion the true view is that when a person invites
another to a place where they both have business, the invitation
creates a duty on the part of the invitor to take reasonable
care that the place does not contain or to give warning of
hidden dangers, no matter whether the place belongs to the
invitor or is in his exclusive occupation.”
58. The duty of a theatre owner to his patrons was outlined as follows in
Rosston v. Sullivan, 278 Mass 31 (1932):

“The general duty to use ordinary care and diligence to put and
keep this theatre in a reasonably safe condition, having regard
to the construction of the place, character of the entertainment
given and the customary conduct of persons attending.”

59. The above case was cited with approval in Helen Upham v. Chateau De
Ville Theatre Inc 380 Mass 350 (1980).

60. The Supreme Court of Wyoming in Mostert v. CBL & Associates, et. Al.,
741 P.2d 1090 (Wyo. 1987) held that the owner of a theatre, AMC owed an
affirmative duty to patrons as “business visitor invitees” to inform them
of off-premises dangers (in that case a flash flood) which were reasonably
foreseeable:

“We conclude that appellee AMC owed the Mostert family an
affirmative duty to exercise reasonable or ordinary care for
their safety which includes an obligation to advise them of off-
premises danger that might reasonably be foreseeable. We are not
suggesting by our determination that AMC had a duty to restrain
its patrons or even a duty to advise them what to do. The duty
as we see it is only to reveal what AMC knew to its customers.”
61. In Brown v. B & F Theatres Ltd., (1947) S.C.R. 486, the Supreme Court
of Canada held the liability of a theatre owner to be 90% and the
contributory negligence of the appellant to be 10% in a case with the
following facts:

“The appellant, Margaret Brown, was injured by falling down a
stairway in a theatre in Toronto. After passing through a
brightly lighted lobby, she entered the foyer, intending to go
to the ladies’ room. This was on the left of the entrance and
was indicated by a short electric sign 7’ high facing her as she
turned. In the foyer, a narrow corridor, the lights were dimmed;
and, proceeding along the wall at her left, she opened what she
took to be the door to the waiting room. A fire extinguisher 2’
long and 4’ from the floor hung on the wall next to the left
side of the door; and at the right side was a post or panel 7”
wide, projecting about 4” out from the wall; the door, 31” wide,
swinging toward the left, on which the word “Private” was
printed in faint letters, was between three and four feet in
front of the sign and led to a stairway into the basement. The
platform or landing was about 24” deep and the door must have
swung somewhat before the edge would be brought into view.
Immediately inside on the wall at the right and on a level with
her eyes, was a light which, on her story, momentarily blinded
her. The entrance to the ladies’ room was separated from this
door by the post or panel.”
62. Holding that the theatre owner had breached the duty owed by a
proprietor of premises to his invitee, the Court held as follows:

“Here, Mrs. Brown paid a consideration for the privileges of the
theatre, including that of making use of the ladies’ room. There
was a contractual relation between her and the theatre
management that exercising prudence herself she might enjoy
those privileges without risk of danger so far as reasonable
care could make the premises safe.”

(emphasis supplied)
63. In Dabwali Fire Tragedy Victims Association v. Union of India and
Ors., (2001) 1 ILR Punjab & Haryana 368 to which one of us (Thakur J.) was
a party, the High Court of Punjab & Haryana held that both the school, as
well as the owners of a premises on which the school function was held,
were liable as occupiers for the tragic death of 406 persons, most of them
children, caused by a fire which broke out on the premises during the
function. In dealing with the question whether the owners of the premises,
Rajiv Marriage Palace, being agents of the school could be held
accountable, the High Court held as follows:

“..The School ought to have known that in a function which is
open to general public, a Pandal with a capacity of 500 to 600
persons spread over no more than an area measuring 100’ x 70’, a
gathering of 1200 to 1500 persons could result in a stampede and
expose to harm everyone participating in the function especially
the children who were otherwise incapable of taking care of
their safety. The school ought to have known that the
availability of only one exit gate from the Marriage Palace and
one from the Pandal would prove insufficient in the event ofany
untoward incident taking place in the course of function. The
School ought to have taken care to restrict the number of
invitees to what could be reasonably accommodated instead of
allowing all and sundry to attend and in the process increase
the chances of a stampede. The School ought to have seen that
sufficient circulation space in and around the seating area was
provided so that the people could quickly move out of the place
in case the need so arose. Suffice it to say that a reasonably
prudent School Management organizing an annual function could
and indeed was duty bound to take care and ensure that no harm
came to anyone who attended the function whether as an invitee
or otherwise, by taking appropriate steps to provide for safety
measures like fire fighting arrangements, exit points, space for
circulation, crowd control and the like. And that obligation
remained unmitigated regardless whether the function was held
within the School premises or at another place chosen by the
Management of the School, because the children continued to be
under the care of the School and so did the obligation of the
School to prevent any harm coming to them. The principle of
proximity creating an obligation for the School qua its students
and invitees to the function would make the School liable for
any negligence in either the choice of the venue of the function
or the degree of care that ought to have been taken to prevent
any harm coming to those who had come to watch and/or
participate in the event. Even the test of foreseeability of the
harm must be held to have been satisfied from the point of view
of an ordinary and reasonably prudent person. That is because a
reasonably prudent person could foresee danger to those
attending a function in a place big enough to accommodate only
500 to 600 people but stretched beyond its capacity to
accommodate double that number. It could also be foreseen that
there was hardly any space for circulation within the Pandal.
In the event of any mishap, a stampede was inevitable in which
women and children who were attending in large number would be
worst sufferers as indeed they turned out to be. Loose electric
connections, crude lighting arrangements and an electric load
heavier than what the entire system was geared to take was a
recipe for a human tragedy to occur. Absence of any fire
extinguishing arrangements within the Pandal and a single exit
from the Pandal hardly enough for the people to run out in the
event of fire could have put any prudent person handling such an
event to serious thought about the safety of those attending the
functioning especially the small children who had been brought
to the venue in large numbers…”
64. Referring to the English decisions in Wheat v. E. Lacon & Co. (1966)
1 All ER 582, Hartwell v. Grayson Rollo (supra), Thomson v. Cremin (1953) 2
All ER 1185 and H & N Emanuel Ltd. v. Greater London Council & Anr. (1971)
2 All ER 835, the High Court went on to hold as follows:

“93. In the instant case while the School had the absolute right
to restrict the entry to the venue of the function being
organized by it and everything that would make the function go
as per its requirements, the owners had not completely given up
their control over the premises, and were indeed present at the
time the incident occurred. The facts and circumstances brought
on record in the course of the enquiry establish that the School
and the Marriage Palace owners were both occupying the premises
and were, therefore, under an obligation to take care for the
safety of not only the students, but everyone who entered the
premises on their invitation or with their permission specific
or implied. As to the obligation of an occupier to take care qua
his invitees a long line of English decisions have settled the
legal position…

xx xx xx

97. In the light of the above, we have no hesitation in holding
that the One Man Commission of Inquiry was perfectly justified
in holding the School and the Marriage Palace liable for the act
of tort arising out of their negligence and duty to take care
about the safety of all those invited to the function at
Dabwali. Question No. 2 is answered accordingly.”
65. In R. v. Gurphal Singh [1999] CrimLR 582, the Court of Appeal in
England dealt with a case where a person staying at a lodging house
occupied and managed by the Singh family died in his sleep due to carbon
monoxide poisoning. The cause of the carbon monoxide was the blocking of
the chimney in the room of the lodger, as well as in the neighbouring room
due to which the smoke from a fire in the room could not escape. While
determining whether the Singh family had breached their duty of care, the
Court held as follows:

“…In substance this is a case where those living in the room
in which Mr. Foster died in a lodging house managed by Singh
family. They were led to believe that the appellant and his
father would take care that they were not poisoned by equipments
provided by the family. The appellant was possessed of
sufficient information to make him aware of a danger of death
from gas. He may not have had sufficient skill to be able to
discover how that danger arose but he was responsible for taking
reasonable steps to deal with that danger if need by calling in
expert help. In those circumstances the judge was right to hold
that there was a sufficient proximity between the lodgers on the
one side and the father and son on the other side to place a
duty of care on the latter.”
66. To sum up, negligence signifies the breach of a duty to do something
which a reasonably prudent man would under the circumstances have done or
doing something which when judged from reasonably prudent standards should
not have been done. The essence of negligence whether arising from an act
of commission or omission lies in neglect of care towards a person to whom
the defendant or the accused as the case may be owes a duty of care to
prevent damage or injury to the property or the person of the victim. The
existence of a duty to care is thus the first and most fundamental of
ingredients in any civil or criminal action brought on the basis of
negligence, breach of such duty and consequences flowing from the same
being the other two. It follows that in any forensic exercise aimed at
finding out whether there was any negligence on the part of the
defendant/accused, the Courts will have to address the above three aspects
to find a correct answer to the charge.

(iv) Difference between negligence in civil actions and in criminal
cases:

67. Conceptually the basis for negligence in civil law is different from
that in criminal law, only in the degree of negligence required to be
proved in a criminal action than what is required to be proved by the
plaintiff in a civil action for recovery of damages. For an act of
negligence to be culpable in criminal law, the degree of such negligence
must be higher than what is sufficient to prove a case of negligence in a
civil action. Judicial pronouncements have repeatedly declared that in
order to constitute an offence, negligence must be gross in nature. That
proposition was argued by Mr. Ram Jethmalani at great length relying upon
English decisions apart from those from this Court and the High Courts in
the country. In fairness to Mr. Salve, counsel appearing for the CBI and
Mr. Tulsi appearing for the Association of Victims, we must mention that
the legal proposition propounded by Mr. Jethmalani was not disputed and in
our opinion rightly so. That negligence can constitute an offence
punishable under Section 304A of the IPC only if the same is proved to be
gross, no matter the word “gross” has not been used by the Parliament in
that provision is the settled legal position. It is, therefore, unnecessary
for us to trace the development of law on the subject, except making a
brief reference to a few notable decisions which were referred to at the
bar.

68. One of the earliest decisions which examined the question of criminal
negligence in England was R. v. Bateman (1925) 94 L.J.K.B. 791 where a
doctor was prosecuted for negligence resulting in the death of his patient.
Lord Hewart L.C.J. summed up the test to be applied in such cases in the
following words:

“A doctor is not criminally responsible for a patient’s
death unless his negligence or incompetence passed beyond a mere
matter of compensation and showed such disregard for life and
safety as to amount to a crime against the State.”
69. Nearly two decades later the Privy Council in John Oni Akerele v. The
King AIR 1943 PC 72 found itself confronted by a similar question arising
out of the alleged medical negligence by a doctor who was treating patients
for an endemic disease known as “Yaws“ which attacks both adults and
children causing lesions on the body of the patient. Following the
treatment, 10 children whom the accused had treated died allegedly because
the injection given to the patients was too strong resulting in an
exceptional reaction among the victims. The allegation against the doctor
was that he had negligently prepared too strong a mixture and thereby was
guilty of manslaughter on account of criminal negligence. Relying upon
Lord Hewart’s L.C.J. observations extracted above, the Privy Council held:

“11. Both statements are true and perhaps cannot safely be made
more definite, but it must be remembered that the degree of
negligence required is that it should be gross, and that neither
a jury nor a Court can transform negligence of a lesser degree
into gross negligence merely by giving it that appellation. The
further words spoken by the Lord Chief Justice in the same case
are, in their Lordships’ opinion, at least as important as those
which have been set out:
It is desirable that, as far as possible, the explanation of
criminal negligence to a jury should not be a mere question of
epithets. It is, in a sense, a question of degree, and it is for
the jury to draw the line, but there is a difference in kind
between the negligence which gives a right to compensation and
the negligence which is a crime.”

70. What is important is that the Privy Council clearly recognized the
difficulty besetting any attempt to define culpable or criminal negligence
and held that it was not possible to make the distinction between
actionable and criminal negligence intelligible, except by means of
illustrations drawn from actual judicial opinions. On the facts of that
case the Privy Council accepted the view that merely because a number of
persons had taken gravely ill after receiving an injection from the
accused, a criminal degree of negligence was not proved.

71. In Jacob Mathew’s case (supra) a three-Judge Bench of this Court was
examining a case of criminal medical negligence by a doctor under Section
304A IPC. This Court reviewed the decisions on the subject including the
decision of the Privy Council in John Oni Akerele’s case (supra) to sum up
its conclusions in para 48. For the case at hand conclusions 5 and 6 bear
relevance which may, therefore, be extracted:

“48. We sum up our conclusions as under:
xxx xxx xxx
(5) The jurisprudential concept of negligence differs in civil
and criminal law. What may be negligence in civil law may not
necessarily be negligence in criminal law. For negligence to
amount to an offence, the element of mens rea must be shown to
exist. For an act to amount to criminal negligence, the degree
of negligence should be much higher i.e. gross or of a very high
degree. Negligence which is neither gross nor of a higher degree
may provide a ground for action in civil law but cannot form the
basis for prosecution.
(6) The word “gross” has not been used in Section 304-A
IPC, yet it is settled that in criminal law negligence or
recklessness, to be so held, must be of such a high degree as to
be “gross”. The expression “rash or negligent act” as occurring
in Section 304-A IPC has to be read as qualified by the word
“grossly”.”

72. The legal position in England remains the same as stated in R. v.
Bateman (supra). That is evident from a much later decision of the House
of Lords in R. v. Adomako (1994) 3 All ER 79 where the legal principle of
negligence in cases involving manslaughter by criminal negligence were
summed up in the following words:

“…In my opinion the law as stated in these two authorities is
satisfactory as providing a proper basis for describing the
crime of involuntary manslaughter. Since the decision in Andrews
v. DPP (1937) 2 All ER 552, was a decision of your Lordships’
House, it remains the most authoritative statement of the
present law which I have been able to find and although its
relationship to R. v. Seymour (1983) 2 ALL ER 1058 is a matter
to which I shall have to return, it is a decision which has not
been departed from. On this basis in my opinion the ordinary
principles of the law of negligence apply to ascertain whether
or not the defendant has been in breach of a duty of care
towards the victim who has died. If such breach of duty is
established the next question is whether that breach of duty
caused the death of the victim. If so, the jury must go on to
consider whether that breach of duty should be characterised as
gross negligence and therefore as a crime. This will depend on
the seriousness of the breach of duty committed by the defendant
in all the circumstances in which the defendant was placed when
it occurred. The jury will have to consider whether the extent
to which the defendant’s conduct departed from the proper
standard of care incumbent upon him, involving as it must have
done a risk of death to the patient, was such that it should be
judged criminal.

It is true that to a certain extent this involves an
element of circularity, but in this branch of the law I do not
believe that is fatal to its being correct as a test of how far
conduct must depart from accepted standards to be characterised
as criminal. This is necessarily a question of degree and an
attempt to specify that degree more closely is I think likely to
achieve only a spurious precision. The essence of the matter,
which is supremely a jury question, is whether, having regard to
the risk of death involved, the conduct of the defendant was so
bad in all the circumstances as to amount in their judgment to a
criminal act or omission…”
73. There is no gainsaying that negligence in order to provide a cause of
action to the affected party to sue for damages is different from
negligence which the prosecution would be required to prove in order to
establish a charge of ‘involuntary manslaughter’ in England, analogous to
what is punishable under Section 304A, IPC in India. In the latter case it
is imperative for the prosecution to establish that the negligence with
which the accused is charged is ‘gross’ in nature no matter Section 304A,
IPC does not use that expression. What is ‘gross’ would depend upon the
fact situation in each case and cannot, therefore, be defined with
certitude. Decided cases alone can illustrate what has been considered to
be gross negligence in a given situation.

74. We propose to revert to the subject at an appropriate stage and refer
to some of the decided cases in which this Court had an occasion to examine
whether the negligence alleged against the accused was gross, so as to
constitute an offence under Section 304A of the IPC.

(V) Doctrine of Causa Causans:

75. We may now advert to the second and an equally, if not, more
important dimension of the offence punishable under Section 304-A IPC, viz.
that the act of the accused must be the proximate, immediate or efficient
cause of the death of the victim without the intervention of any other
person’s negligence. This aspect of the legal requirement is also settled
by a long line of decisions of Courts in this country. We may at the outset
refer to a Division Bench decision of the High Court of Bombay in Emperor
v. Omkar Rampratap (1902) 4 Bom LR 679 where Sir Lawrence Jenkins speaking
for the Court summed up the legal position in the following words:

“…to impose criminal liability under Section 304-A, Indian Penal
Code, it is necessary that the act should have been the direct
result of a rash and negligent act of the accused and that act
must be proximate and efficient cause without the intervention
of another negligence. It must have been the causa causans; it
is not enough that it may have been the causa sine qua non.”
76. The above statement of law was accepted by this Court in Kurban
Hussein Mohamedalli Rangawalla v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1965 SC 1616. We
shall refer to the facts of this case a little later especially because Mr.
Jethmalani, learned Counsel for the appellant-Sushil Ansal, placed heavy
reliance upon the view this Court has taken in the fact situation of that
case.

77. Suffice it to say that this Court has in Kurban Hussein’s case
(supra) accepted in unequivocal terms the correctness of the proposition
that criminal liability under Section 304-A of the IPC shall arise only if
the prosecution proves that the death of the victim was the result of a
rash or negligent act of the accused and that such act was the proximate
and efficient cause without the intervention of another person’s
negligence. A subsequent decision of this Court in Suleman Rahiman Mulani
v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1968 SC 829 has once again approved the view
taken in Omkar Rampratap’s case (supra) that the act of the accused must be
proved to be the causa causans and not simply a causa sine qua non for the
death of the victim in a case under Section 304-A of the IPC.

78. To the same effect are the decisions of this Court in Rustom Sherior
Irani v. State of Maharashtra 1969 ACJ 70; Balchandra @ Bapu and Anr. v.
State of Maharashtra AIR 1968 SC 1319; Kishan Chand v. State of Haryana
(1970) 3 SCC 904; S.N Hussain v. State of A.P. (1972) 3 SCC 18; Ambalal D.
Bhatt v. State of Gujarat (1972) 3 SCC 525 and Jacob Mathew‘s case (supra).
79. To sum up: for an offence under Section 304-A to be proved it is not
only necessary to establish that the accused was either rash or grossly
negligent but also that such rashness or gross negligence was the causa
causans that resulted in the death of the victim. As to what is meant by
causa causans we may gainfully refer to Black’s Law Dictionary (Fifth
Edition) which defines that expression as under:

“The immediate cause; the last link in the chain of causation.”

80. The Advance Law Lexicon edited by Justice Chandrachud, former Chief
Justice of India defines Causa Causans as follows:

”the immediate cause as opposed to a remote cause; the ‘last
link in the chain of causation’; the real effective cause of
damage”
81. The expression “proximate cause” is defined in the 5th edition of
Black’s Law Dictionary as under:

“That which in a natural and continuous sequence unbroken by any
efficient, intervening cause, produces injury and without which
the result would not have occurred. Wisniewski vs. Great
Atlantic & Pac. Tea Company 226 Pa. Super 574, 323 A2d, 744,
748. That which is nearest in the order of responsible
causation. That which stands next in causation to the effect,
not necessarily in time or space but in causal relation. The
proximate cause of an injury is the primary or moving cause, or
that which in a natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any
efficient intervening cause, produces the injury and without
which the accident could not have happened, if the injury be one
which might be reasonably anticipated or foreseen as a natural
consequence of the wrongful act. An injury or damage is
proximately caused by an act, or a failure to act, whenever it
appears from the evidence in the case, that the act or omission
played a substantial part in bringing about or actually causing
the injury or damage; and that the injury or damage was either a
direct result or a reasonably probable consequence of the act or
omission.”

(vi) Whether Ansal brothers were occupiers of Uphaar cinema building:

82. In cases where negligence is alleged in regard to use of buildings
and structures permanent or temporary, the duty to care is fixed on the
person or persons who were occupiers of such buildings or structures. Since
the charge in the present case also relates to the use of a building, the
question whether the appellants Sushil and Gopal Ansal, were the occupiers
of Uphaar Cinema, so as to cast a duty to care upon them towards the
patrons who came to watch the exhibition of cinematographs needs to be
addressed.

83. Appearing for Sushil Ansal Mr. Ram Jethmalani, learned senior
advocate, in his inimitable style and remarkable forensic skill argued that
his client Sushil Ansal was not the occupier of the Uphaar Cinema nor did
he owe any duty of care towards those who came to watch the movie on the
fateful day so as to give rise to any civil or criminal liability against
his client for the alleged breach of any such duty. Mr. Sushil Kumar
appearing for Gopal Ansal, adopted a similar line of argument and urged
that even Gopal Ansal had nothing to do with the cinema or the management
of its affairs as on the date of the unfortunate fire incident. Reliance
in support of that submission was placed both by Mr. Jethmalani and Mr.
Sushil Kumar on the fact that the Cinema was owned by GPTA Pvt. Ltd. and
later by Ansal Theaters & Clubotels Pvt. Ltd. who alone could be said to be
the occupiers of the Cinema at the relevant point of time. Reliance was
also placed upon the fact that Sushil Ansal was the Managing Director of
the Company only till 21st November, 1983. He had finally retired from the
Board on 17th October, 1988, thereby putting an end to his association with
the Cinema and its affairs. Even Gopal Ansal who took over as Managing
Director of the Company on 21st November, 1983 had retired from the Board
of Directors on 17th October, 1988, whereafter he exercised no control over
the Cinema or its management to earn him what is retrospect is a dubious
distinction of being the “occupier of the cinema”. He had no doubt resumed
the Directorship of the company for a period of six months in December,
1994, but was concerned only with the business of the Clubs being run by
the company. This implied, according to the learned counsel, that neither
Sushil nor Gopal Ansal was the occupier of the Cinema on the date of the
occurrence to give rise to any civil or criminal liability against them.

84. Before we deal with the factual backdrop, in which the question
whether the Ansal Brothers were occupiers of the Cinema has to be answered,
we must steer clear of the impression that an occupier must be the owner of
the premises. While it is true that an owner may in a given fact situation
be also the occupier of the premises owned by him, it is not correct to say
that for being an occupier one must necessarily be the owner of the
premises in question. What is important is whether the premises in
question was sufficiently and not exclusively under the control of
defendant/accused, and for being in such control, ownership of the premises
is not a condition precedent. An occupier may be in control of the
premises even when he does not own the same whether fully or jointly with
others. It is also not necessary that the control must be full and all
pervasive. It follows that if there are more than one occupiers of a
building, and each one neglects the duty to care, the liability whether
civil or criminal will fall on all of them. The law on the subject is
settled in England by the decision of the House of Lords in Wheat v. E.
Lacon & Co. (supra), where Lord Denning applied the test of sufficient
degree of control and not exclusive or entire control to determine whether
the person concerned was an occupier. The following passage is apposite in
this regard:
“It was simply a convenient word to denote a person who had a
sufficient degree of control over premises to put him under a
duty of care towards those who came lawfully on to the premises.
In order to be an ‘occupier’ it is not necessary for a person to
have entire control over the premises. He need not have
exclusive occupation. Suffice it that he has some degree of
control. He may share the control with others. Two or more may
be occupiers. And whenever this happens, each is under a duty to
use care towards persons coming lawfully on to the premises,
dependent on his degree of control. If each fails in his duty,
each is liable to a visitor who is injured in consequence of his
failure but each may have a claim to contribution from the
other.”

85. To the same effect is the decision in H & N Emanuel Ltd. v. Greater
London Council & Anr. (supra) where the Court made the following
observations:

“Any person was an occupier for the purposes of fire if he had a
sufficient degree of control over the premises and could say
with authority to anyone who came there, “Do or do not light a
fire,” or “Put out that fire”. If he could, he was liable for
negligence on the part of any person who came there.”
86. Coming to the facts of the case at hand, merely because the company
was the legal owner of the Cinema premises, did not mean that the Company
and Company alone was the occupier thereof. The question whether the Ansal
Brothers (Sushil and Gopal) exercised any control over the affairs of the
Cinema, and its maintenance was a pure and simple question of fact, on
which a great deal of evidence was led at the trial, and appreciated by the
two Courts below. We have in the preceding part of this judgment referred
to the findings of fact recorded by the Courts below on that aspect. But,
for the sake of completeness, we may refer to those findings in some detail
at this stage over again.

87. The trial Court and, so also, the High Court have both concurrently
held that Sushil and Gopal Ansal were, at all material times, at the helm
of the affairs of the company that owned Uphaar cinema. All crucial
decisions relating to the cinema including decisions regarding installation
of DVB transformer on the premises, closure of the right side exit &
gangway and rearrangement of the seating plan in the balcony were taken
while either one or the other of the two was either a Director or Managing
Director of the company. Both the Courts have further found that Ansal
brother’s control over the day-to-day affairs and the staff employed to
look after the cinema management continued even upto the date of the
incident. In particular the Courts below have concurrently held that the
decision to install the DVB transformer and to let out various parts of the
premises for commercial use in violation of the sanctioned plan were taken
by Sushil Ansal as Managing Director of the company. Applications for
grant of the cinema license and subsequent renewals were found to have been
made by him as the representative licensee on behalf of the company even
after his purported retirement from the Board of Directors. Not only that,
the Courts below have concurrently held that Sushil Ansal was exercising a
high degree of financial control over the affairs of the company and the
cinema owned by him. Gopal Ansal was similarly exercising an equally
extensive degree of financial control even after his retirement as
Director. The Courts below have also found that all decisions relating to
changes in the balcony seating arrangement and installation of additional
seats were taken during Gopal Ansal’s term as Managing Director and at his
request. The Courts have noticed and relied upon the Show Cause Notice
dated 28th May, 1982 in which Gopal Ansal, the Managing Director, was
cautioned about the dangerous practice being followed by the cinema
management of bolting the doors of the cinema hall during the exhibition of
the films. An assurance to the effect that such a practice would be
discontinued was given by Gopal Ansal as Managing Director of the company.
88. In conclusion the High Court has outlined eight decisions which were
directly attributable to the Ansal brothers including decisions relating to
the day-to-day affairs and commercial use of the cinema premises as also
the seating arrangement in the balcony and in no uncertain terms rejected
the argument that Ansal brothers had nothing to do with the company and the
cinema after their retirement from the Board of Directors in 1988. All
these findings are, in our opinion, supported by overwhelming evidence on
record which satisfactorily proves not only that Ansal brothers continued
to exercise all pervasive control over the affairs of the cinema but also
because the cinema license, at all material times, showed Sushil Ansal as
the representative license of the Uphaar Cinema. Our attention was also
drawn to an affidavit filed by Sushil Ansal marked as EX.PW.50/B in which
Sushil Ansal unequivocally acknowledged that he was the occupier of the
cinema. The relevant portion of the affidavit reads as under:

“I, Sushil Ansal, s/o Late Shri Charanji Lal, R/o N-148,
Panchshila Park, New Delhi, Chairman of Green Park Theatres
Associated (P) Ltd., 115 Ansal Bhawan, 16 Kastuba Gandhi Marg,
New Delhi – 110001, am applying for renewal of License for the
year 1992-93. I have not without permission, transferred the
License or the Licensed place or the Cinematographs to any
person during the year 1991-92 to exhibit films in the Licensed
place. I am still the occupier of the licensed premises and
owner of the Cinematograph.”

(emphasis supplied)
89. The Courts below have, in our view, correctly noticed the fact that
not one out of a total of 5000 shares of the company was ever owned by
anyone outside the Ansal family. The Courts have also placed reliance upon
the depositions of Pranav Ansal (PW-109), V.K. Aggarwal (PW-113), Subhash
Verma (PW-114) and Kusum Ansal, wife of Sushil Ansal (PW-115) to conclude
that all these persons who were Directors or had financial powers on the
date of the incident were completely unaware of the affairs of the company
as well as the cinema enterprise, a fact, that goes a long way to prove
that the cinema was being managed by Ansal brothers who had a complete sway
over its affairs. What is worse is that some of these witnesses expressed
their ignorance about whether they were Directors or whether they had
financial powers within the company or that the company was still involved
in cinema business.

90. The cumulative effect of the above facts and circumstances proved by
cogent evidence placed on record by the prosecution, in our view, fully
supports the prosecution case that Sushil and Gopal Ansal were in full
control over the affairs of the company which owned the cinema, as well as
the cinema itself, at all material times, including the date of the
incident. We have, therefore, no hesitation in affirming the finding that
the Ansal brothers – Sushil and Gopal were both occupiers of the cinema
complex as on the date of the incident in which capacity they owed a duty
to care for the safety of the patrons visiting/coming to the premises.

91. It was contended by Mr. Jethmalani that the offence if any having
been committed by the company, officers of the company could not be
vicariously held guilty of criminal negligence. Reliance, in support of
that submission was placed by Mr. Jethmalani upon the provisions of Section
141 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and the decisions of the Court in
S.M.S. Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v. Neeta Bhalla (2005) 8 SCC 89, JK Industries
and others v. Chief Inspector of Factories and Boilers (1996) 6 SCC 685.
It was urged that in the absence of any provisions in the IPC rendering the
officers of the company vicariously liable for prosecution for the offences
committed by the company, there was no question of the appellant Ansal
brothers being held guilty that too for an offence committed long after
they had ceased to hold any position in the company. We regret our
inability to accept that submission. We say so because the appellants have
not been prosecuted as officers of a company accused of committing an
offence, nor is it the case of the prosecution that the appellants are
vicariously liable as in the case of those falling under Section 141 of the
Negotiable Instruments Act. The prosecution case on the other hand is that
in their capacity as occupiers the appellant Ansal brothers had a duty to
care for the safety of the patrons which duty they grossly neglected. The
entire substratum of the case is, therefore, different from the assumption
on which Mr. Jethmalani has built his argument. The assumption being
misplaced, the argument can be no different.

(vii) Degree and nature of care expected of an occupier of a cinema
building:

92. What is the degree of care expected from the occupier of a cinema is
the next question to which we must advert at this stage. Two fundamental
principles must be noticed at the threshold while answering that question.
The first is that the degree and nature of care expected of an occupier
depends upon the fact situation in which the duty to care arises. The
second and equally important principle at common law is that the degree of
care in a given fact situation would depend upon whether the person to whom
the duty is owed is a contractual visitor, invitee, licensee or trespasser.
Of these the occupier owes the highest degree of care to a contractual
visitor viz. a person who pays consideration to be present on the premises
for some purpose; whatever that purpose be. At common law there is an
implied term in the contract between the occupier and the visitor that the
occupier’s premises shall be reasonably safe. The occupier’s duty must be
held to have been breached if any injury is caused to a contractual visitor
by any defect in the premises apart from a latent defect. Winfield &
Jolowicz on Tort (Sixteenth Edition) explains the duty of an occupier to
take care towards different categories of visitors in the following
passage:
“At common law the duties of an occupier were cast in a
descending scale to four different kinds of persons and a brief
account is necessary to gain a full understanding of the Act.
The highest degree of care was owed by the occupier to one who
entered in pursuance of a contract with him (for example a guest
in an hotel): in that case there was an implied warranty that
the premises were as safe as reasonable care and skill could
make them. A lower duty was owed to the “invitee”, that is to
say, a person who (without any contract) entered on business of
interest both to himself and the occupier (for example a
customer coming into a shop to view the wares): he was entitled
to expect that the occupier should prevent damage from unusual
danger, of which he knew or ought to have known. Lower still
was the duty to the “licensee”, a person who entered with the
occupier’s express or implied permission but without any
community of interest with the occupier: the occupier’s duty
towards him was to warn him of any concealed danger or trap of
which he actually knew. Finally, there was the trespasser, to
whom under the original common law there was owed only a duty to
abstain from deliberate or reckless injury.

93. One of the earliest common law decisions regarding occupier’s
liability to visitors is in Mclenan v. Segar (1917) 2 KB 325 where an
innkeeper was held liable for injury caused to a guest while escaping from
a fire in the inn. The fire was caused because there was no proper
mechanism for conveying the smoke and burning soot from the kitchen chimney
to the atmosphere. The mechanism for conveying the smoke had been installed
in 1910 by an architect employed by the landlord from whom the innkeeper
had taken the premises on lease. However, the fact that the defect arose
from the architect’s negligence did not prevent liability from being
imposed on the innkeeper. The relevant portion of the judgment is as
follows:

“Where the occupier of premises agrees for reward that a person
shall have the right to enter and use them for a mutually
contemplated purpose, the contract between the parties (unless
it provides to the contrary) contains an implied warranty that
the premises are as safe for that purpose as reasonable
care and skill on the part of anyone can make them. The rule is
subject to the limitation that the Defendant is not to be held
responsible for defects which could not have been discovered by
reasonable care or skill on the part of any person concerned
with the construction, alteration, repair, or maintenance of the
premises: and the head-note to Francis v. Cockrell must to this
extent be corrected. But subject to this limitation it matters
not whether the lack of care or skill be that of the Defendant
or his servants, or that of an independent contractor or his
servants, or whether the negligence takes place before or after
the occupation by the Defendant of the premises.”

94. To the common law duty of care is at times added a further obligation
which too the occupier must discharge in order that his duty to care can be
said to have been fully discharged. Such duties are often cast under
statutes enacted by the legislature or in Rules & Regulations framed in
exercise of powers delegated under such enactments. These additional
safeguards against injury to life and limb of innocent parties who are
working in the premises or who visit such premises, in large numbers, are
in public interest and imply that even the ‘State’ in all its
manifestations is concerned about the safety of those visiting such public
places, be it a cinema hall as in the case at hand or any other place of
entertainment or a place where people go for any other purpose whether as
contractual visitors or otherwise. The existence of such a statutory duty
especially one that concerns safety of the visitors adds another dimension
to the duty to care to which we shall presently advert. But before we do
so we need to examine whether any such statutory duty was cast upon the
occupier of the cinema and if so what was the nature of that duty.

95. The Cinematograph Act, 1952 inter alia regulates exhibition of films
by means of cinematographs. Section 10 of the Act, provides that save as
otherwise provided under Part III of the Act no person shall give an
exhibition by means of a cinematograph elsewhere them in a place licensed
under this part or otherwise than in compliance with any conditions and
restrictions imposed by such license. Section 12 of the Act stipulates the
restrictions on powers of the licensing Authority and forbids grant of a
license except where he is satisfied that the rules made under Part III
have been substantially complied with and adequate precautions have been
taken in the place in respect of which the license is to be given to
provide for safety of persons attending exhibitions therein. Section 16 of
the Act empowers the Government to make rules under Part III of the Act,
which part as noticed above also makes safety of persons attending the
exhibition an important requirement. Rule 10(1) of the Delhi Cinematograph
Rules framed in exercise of the said power explicitly makes the licensee
responsible for the safety of those attending the exhibition of films. It
reads:

“10(1) The licensee shall be responsible for compliance with the
provisions of these rules and with the conditions of his
license, for the maintenance of the licensed premises at all
times and in all respects in conformity with the standards
prescribed by these rules and for taking all necessary measures
before any cinematograph exhibition is commenced to ensure the
safety of the public and his employees against fire and other
accidents.

(2) The licensee or some responsible person nominated by him in
writing for the purpose shall be in general charge of the
licensed premises and cinematograph during the whole time where
any exhibition is in progress.”

(emphasis supplied)
96. The rules make further provisions for safety of the cinema goers.
For instance Rules 24 and 37 of the Delhi Cinematograph Act, 1953 provide
for attendants to carry electric torches for use in emergency and for
keeping the fire appliances in working order and incharge of some person
specially appointed for the purpose. The said two rules may also be
extracted at this stage:

“24. Attendants and all members of the staff employed in the
building during an exhibition shall carry electric torches for
use in emergency in the event of failure of the lighting.

37.“Before the commencement of each performance the
cinematograph operator shall satisfy himself that the fire
appliances, intended for use within the enclosure are in working
order, and during the performance such appliances shall be in
the charge of some person specially appointed for that purpose,
who shall see that they are kept constantly available for use.”
97. The First Schedule to the DCR 1953 compliance whereof is essential
for grant and renewal deals extensively with several aspects most if not
all of which deal with the safety of the cinema goers. For instance Para 3
of the schedule deals with external walls, Para 6 of the schedule deals
with the number of persons to be admitted, Para 7 with seating within the
hall, Para 8 with gangways, Para 9 with stairways, Para 10 with exits, Para
13 with ventilation, Para 15 with Parking, Para 16 with fire precautions,
Para 34(1) with illumination of exits, passages, corridors and stairways,
Paras 35 and 36 with emergency lights.

98. A conspectus of the provisions of the Act and the rules referred to
above shows that the duty to “ensure safety” of those entering a cinema
hall for watching the exhibition of a film, is cast upon the occupier of
the hall. The use of words “taking all necessary measures before a
cinematograph exhibition is commenced to ensure safety of the public and
his employees against fair and other accidents” leaves no manner of doubt
that apart from the common law duty to care, the statutory provisions too
cast such an obligation upon the licence/occupier of the cinema hall.

99. That brings us to the question whether and if so what is the effect
of a statutory obligation to care for the safety of the visitors to a
cinema hall, where a duty to care otherwise exists under the common law.
The answer can be best provided by a reference to the English decision in
Lochgelly Iron & Coal Co. Ltd. v. M’Mullan, (1934) AC 1. A reading of this
case would suggest that where a duty of care exists under common law, and
this duty is additionally supported and clarified by statutory provisions,
a breach of the statutory duty would be proof enough of negligence. It
would not be open to the defendant in such a case to argue that the harm
was not foreseeable, since “the very object of the legislation is to put
that particular precaution beyond controversy”.

100. The import and significance of the case is explained in Clerk &
Lindsell on Torts (Twentieth Edition) as follows:

“In Lochgelly Iron & Coal Co Ltd v. M’Mullan, the House of Lords
came close to equating an action for breach of statutory duty
with an action in negligence. Lord Atkin said that all that was
necessary to show “is a duty to take care to avoid injuring; and
if the particular care to be taken is prescribed by statute, and
the duty to the injured person to take the care is likewise
imposed by statute, and the breach is proved, all the essentials
of negligence are present”. Negligence did not depend on the
Court agreeing with the legislature that the precaution ought to
have been taken, because the “very object of the legislation is
to put that particular precaution beyond controversy”. On this
approach breach of a statutory duty constitutes negligence per
se, but it applies only to legislation which is designed to
prevent a particular mischief in respect of which the defendant
is already under a duty in common law. Failure to meet the
prescribed statutory standard is then treated as unreasonable
conduct amounting to negligence, because a reasonable man would
not ignore precautions required by statute, and the defendant
cannot claim that the harm was unforeseeable because the
legislature has already anticipated it. The statutory standard
“crystallises” the question of what constitutes carelessness. On
the other hand, where legislation does not deal with
circumstances in which there is an existing common law duty,
then, unless expressly stated, breach of the statute would not
give rise to an action, because the damages may greatly exceed
the penalty considered appropriate by the legislature.”
101. Reverting back to the degree and nature of care expected of an
occupier of a cinema hall, we must at the outset say that the nature and
degree of care is expected to be such as would ensure the safety of the
visitors against all foreseeable dangers and harm. That is the essence of
the duty which an occupier owes to the invitees whether contractual or
otherwise. The nature of care that the occupier must, therefore, take would
depend upon the fact situation in which duty to care arises. For instance,
in the case of a hotel which offers to its clients the facility of a
swimming pool, the nature of the care that the occupier of the hotel would
be expected to take would be different from what is expected of an occupier
of a cinema hall. In the former case, the occupier may be expected to
ensure that the pool is safe for use by the guests in the hotel, in that
the depth is safe for those using the diving board if any, that life guards
are on duty when children or other guests are using the pool, that
immediate medical succor is provided to those who may meet with any
accident, and so on. The nature of duty is in that sense different from
that of cinema owner/occupier, where all these may not form part of his
duty to care. In the case of a cinema hall the nature of an occupier’s
duty to care may, inter alia, require him to ensure rapid dispersal from
the hall in the event of any fire or other emergency, and for that purpose
to provide suitable gangways and keep them clear of any obstruction, to
provide proper exits, to keep the exit signs illuminated, to provide
emergency lighting, to provide fire fighting systems, alarm systems and to
employ and keep trained personnel on duty whenever an exhibition of
cinematograph is in progress.

102. An occupier of a cinema would be expected to take all those steps
which are a part of his duty to care for the safety and security of all
those visiting the cinema for watching a cinematograph exhibition. What is
important is that the duty to care is not a onetime affair. It is a
continuing obligation which the occupier owes towards every invitee
contractual or otherwise every time an exhibition of the cinematograph
takes place. What is equally important is that not only under the common
law but even under the statutory regimen, the obligation to ensure safety
of the invitees is undeniable, and any neglect of the duty is actionable
both as a civil and criminal wrong, depending upon whether the negligence
is simple or gross.

103. In the case of gross negligence prosecution and damages may be
claimed simultaneously and not necessarily in the alternative. We may at
this stage refer to a few pronouncements to illustrate that the duty to
care and the nature of care expected of any person accused of committing an
offence under Section 304A IPC has always been seen in the fact situations
in which the question arose. In Bhalchandra Waman Pathe v. State of
Maharashtra 1968 Mah. L.J. 423 (SC) this Court was dealing with a case
where the regulations framed by the Commissioner of Police, under the
Bombay Police Act, required the driver of car to look ahead and see whether
there was any pedestrian in the crossing and if there was one to wait till
he crossed the carriage way. The accused in that case had failed to take
care and do that, resulting in the death of a pedestrian who was crossing
the road. The question that fell for consideration was whether the driver
was rash or negligent. This Court held that since the speed limit was 35
miles per hour, and since the accused was driving the car at 35 miles an
hour, there was no rashness on his part in the absence of any other
circumstance showing that he was driving at a reckless speed. Even so the
charge of negligence was held proved against the accused as he had breached
the duty cast upon him to see whether there was any pedestrian to the
pedestrian crossing. Law, observed this Court, enjoined upon him and
ordinary human prudence required him to do so. Failure of the accused to
exercise that reasonable care and caution rendered him liable in criminal
law to a conviction under Section 304A of the IPC. This Court approved the
ratio of the decisions in Idu Beg and Nidamarti cases (supra), that
distinguished ‘rashness’ and ‘negligence’, and held that while rashness
implies recklessness or indifference to consequences, negligence arises
from neglect of a civic duty of circumspection, “which having regard to all
the circumstances out of which the charge has arisen, it was the imperative
duty of the accused person to have adopted.” Rashness, observed this Court,
was undoubtedly a graver offence.

104. In Bhalchandra @ Bapu and Anr. v. State of Maharashtra, 1968 (3) SCR
766, this Court was dealing with a case in which an explosion in a factory
manufacturing crackers had caused the death of some of the workers and
injured others. The findings recorded by the Courts below was that the
accused had in their possession unauthorized explosives in contravention of
the Act and the Rules and had committed several breaches of those Rules and
the conditions of the license issued to them. Relying upon the decisions
of this Court in Kurban Hussein’s case (supra) and Suleman Rahiman Mulani’s
case (supra), it was contended that mere violation of Rules or terms of a
licence would not make the accused liable for any punitive action against
them. The decisions of this Court in Kurban Hussein’s and Suleman Rahiman
Mulani’s cases (supra) were distinguished by this Court and the conviction
of the accused under Section 304A IPC upheld in the following words:

“…The facts of the present case are somewhat different and
distinguishable from those of the above two cases as will be
clear from a close examination of the material evidence relating
to the substances which were being used in the manufacture of
the fire works etc. in the factory of the appellants…
xx xx xx
…Although there was no direct evidence of the immediate cause of
the explosion but indisputably the explosives the possession of
which was prohibited under the notifications issued under the
Act were found in the shops or the premises where the appellants
carried on their business and the substances that have been
mentioned which were of a highly hazardous and dangerous nature
were apparently being used in the manufacture of the fire works
since they were found at the scene of the explosion, (vide the
evidence mentioned before and the finding of the trial court and
the Additional Sessions Judge). As stated by Dindeshchandra PW
10 these explosives had sensitive compositions and even friction
or percussion could cause explosion. It is further proved that
in the factory itself where the explosion took place the persons
who were employed were mostly women who brought their small
children with them and young children below the age of 18 had
been employed in the manufacture of the fire works etc. The
factory was situate in close proximity to residential quarters.
It became therefore all the more incumbent on the appellants to
have completely avoided the use of highly sensitive compositions
of the nature mentioned above.
The decision which is apposite to the present case is the
one recently delivered by this Court on April 3, 1968 in Rustom
Sherior Irani v. State of Maharashtra. There the chimney of a
bakery had collapsed and 11 persons were killed and certain
persons were injured. The appellant had submitted no plan for
the alteration of the chimney for the third time and had asked
just a mason to remove the iron pipe which had corroded and to
bring the height of the chimney to 65 feet. The mason had told
him that while the work was being executed it was unnecessary to
completely keep the bakery closed except during the period the
repair work was being done. After the chimney fell down a number
of officers visited the spot and inspected the bakery. The Chief
Inspector of Boilers was of the opinion that the cause of the
collapse of the chimney was the explosion which occurred in it
because of the products of combustion and gases not being
permitted to escape freely as a pipe of 6 inches diameter had
been put instead of 12 inches diameter. It is unnecessary to
refer to the detailed discussion of the evidence. It was
established that the construction of the new chimney had been
done without the advice of a properly qualified person. The
argument raised was on the lines similar to the one which had
been advanced in Kurban Hussein Mohammedali Rangwalla v. State
of Maharashtra. It was maintained that no negligence on the part
of the appellant had been established and it was on account of
the negligence of the mason that the chimney had fallen down.
This Court was of the view that the proximate and efficient
cause of the deaths was the negligence of the appellant in
choosing a pipe of 6 inches diameter and asking a mason (who was
apparently not a qualified person) to carry out the alterations
and also continuing working atleast one oven there during the
period while the alterations to the chimney were being made.”

105. This Court referred with approval to Queen Empress v. Bhutan ILR XVI
All. 472 and Kamr-ud-din v. King Emperor 1905 PR 22(Cr) and English
decisions in Regina v. David Dant, 169 English Reports (C.C.) 1517 and Rex.
v. Pittwood (1902) 19 TLR 37 to hold that criminal negligence can be found
on varying sets of circumstances, and that the tests applied in the said
cases including the list of direct or efficient cause was fully applicable
to the case at hand. It is noteworthy that in Rex. v. Pittwood (supra), the
prisoner was charged with manslaughter on the ground that he had been
negligent in not closing a gate when a train passed which it was his duty
to do with the result that White who was in a hay cart was killed while the
cart was struck by the train which came when it was crossing the line. The
Court had in that case, held the prisoner liable as it was his duty to keep
the gate shut to protect the public against an oncoming train. This act of
misfeasance was held to constitute gross negligence in the discharge of his
duty towards the public crossing the road, amounting to an offence of
manslaughter.

106. In S.N. Hussain’s case (supra), this Court was dealing with an R.T.C.
bus that met with an accident at a manned railway level crossing which was
in the charge of a gateman whose duty it was to close the gate when the
train was expected to pass by. When the bus reached the level crossing the
gate was open. The accused- bus driver finding the gate open crossed the
meter gauge track when suddenly a goods train dashed against the bus on the
rear side with the result that the bus was thrown off course causing
serious injuries to several passengers, one of whom was killed in the
accident. The appellant’s defense was that he was neither rash nor
negligent and the accident was unavoidable for he did not realize that a
goods train was passing at the time and since the gate was open he crossed
the railway crossing absolutely oblivious of the fact that a train was
approaching.

107. The Trial Court accepted that explanation and acquitted the accused.
The High Court reversed the order and convicted him. This Court relying
upon the definition of criminal rashness and criminal negligence given by
Straight J. in Empress v. Idu beg (supra) and in Bhalchandra Waman Pathe v.
State of Maharashtra (supra) held that where a railway level crossing was
unmanned, it may be right to insist that the driver of the vehicle should
stop the vehicle, look both ways to see if a train is approaching and
thereafter drive the vehicle after satisfying that there was no danger in
crossing the railway track. Where the level crossing was protected by a
gateman and the gateman opens out the gate inviting the vehicles to pass,
it will be too much to expect the driver to stop his vehicle and look out
for any approaching train. The Court accordingly acquitted the appellant of
the offence punishable under Section 304A IPC.

108. A conspectus of the decisions quoted above reveals that an offence
under Section 304A IPC may arise under a variety of circumstances, ranging
from reckless driving of vehicles to negligent handling of explosives in a
factory. In every case, this Court has been mindful to determine the nature
of care which ought to have been exercised by the accused person in the
context of all the facts and circumstances of that case. Moreover, this
Court has been careful while applying or distinguishing preceding case law
relating to Section 304A to read each case in the context of its own facts,
without deriving from it any general propositions to be applied in all
cases dealing with the same offence. Therefore, the question of the nature
of care which ought to have been exercised by the occupiers of Uphaar
Cinema, as ordinary prudent businessmen, must be decided solely on the
totality of the facts and circumstances of the present case.

109. In the case at hand, the claim for compensation has already been
awarded by the High Court and affirmed by this Court, no matter against the
company as the owner of the cinema hall. Dealing with the question of
negligence, this Court in Municipal Council of Delhi, Delhi v. Association
of Victims for Uphaar Tragedy and Ors. (2011) 14 SCC 481 observed:

“27. At the outset it should be noted that the causes for
the calamity have been very exhaustively considered by the High
Court and it has recorded a categorical finding about the
negligence and the liability on the part of the licensee and the
DVB. On the examination of the records, we agree with the High
Court that such a catastrophic incident would not have happened
if the parapet wall had not been raised to the roof level. If
the said wall had not been raised, the fumes would have
dispersed in the atmospheric air. Secondly if one of the exits
in the balcony had not been blocked by construction of an
owner’s box and if the right side gangway had not been closed by
fixing seats, the visitors in the balcony could have easily
dispersed through the other gangway and exit into the unaffected
staircase. Thirdly if the cars had not been parked in the
immediate vicinity of the transformer room and appropriate pit
had been made for draining of transformer oil, the oil would not
have leaked into the passage nor would the burning oil lighted
the cars, as the fire would have been restricted only to the
transformer room. Even if one of the three causes for which the
theatre owner was responsible, was absent, the calamity would
not have occurred. The Licensee could not point out any error in
those findings. Ultimately therefore the contention of the
licensee before us was not to deny liability but only to reduce
the quantum of liability fastened by the High Court and to
increase the share of the liability of the three statutory
authorities.

xxx xxx xxx

57. The licensee argued that the entire liability should be
placed upon the DVB. It was contended that DVB have installed a
transformer of a capacity of 1000 KV without obtaining the
statutory sanction/approval and without providing all the safety
measures which it was duty bound to provide under the relevant
Electricity Rules, and therefore, DVB alone should be
responsible for the tragedy. This contention has no merit. In
fact none in the main hall (ground floor of the theatre) died.
Those on the second floor also escaped. It is only those in the
balcony caught in noxious fumes, which died of asphyxiation. The
deaths were on account of the negligence and greed on the part
of the licensee in regard to installation of additional seats,
in regard to closing of an exit door, parking of cars in front
of transformer room by increasing parking from 15 to 35 and
other acts. We therefore reject the contention that DVB should
be made exclusively liable to pay the compensation. We have
already held that the Licensing Authority and MCD are not
liable. Therefore, the liability will be 85% (Licensee) and 15%
(DVB).”
110. Mr. Jethmalani, however, argued that the findings recorded by this
Court while dealing with the claim for payment of damages could not be made
a basis for holding the appellant-Ansal Brothers guilty of an offence
punishable under Section 304A of the IPC, not only because those findings
were not recorded in relation to the appellants but also because the
standard of proof required for award of compensation was different from
that required to prove a criminal charge. There is merit in that
contention. The standard of proof required being different, simply because
damages have been awarded against the owner of the cinema hall can be no
reason why the occupier should be found guilty of gross negligence required
to be proved for an offence under Section 304A. The claim for payment of
compensation was at any rate made and awarded against the company who owned
the cinema hall. This Court cannot in that view make use of the findings
recorded in the compensation case nor is it otherwise necessary for us to
do so for the evidence adduced at the trial is sufficient for us to
independently determine the question of negligence as also the criminal
liability of the occupier of the cinema arising from the same.

111. The nature of care in the case of cinema theatres would depend upon
three primary factors that the occupier of the cinema must at all times
bear in mind. The first is that the cinema hall is an enclosed and
necessarily a dark space to which public at large have access on payment of
a price for the ticket that entitles him to watch the exhibition of a
cinematograph. Such theatres, at any given point of time, admit large
crowds of people whose safety is the obligation of the occupier till such
time they leave the precincts of the theatre. The duty to take care
regarding the safety of those admitted to watch an exhibition rests with
the occupier who can and ought to even by the most ordinary standards of
prudence foresee that in the event of anything untoward happening whether
out of a fire incident or otherwise, those inside the cinema premises can
be safe only if they exit from the same as rapidly as possible. Any delay
whether on account of obstruction in or around the exit points or in the
gangways can be reasonably foreseen by any prudent businessman running the
business of exhibition of cinematographs to be extremely hazardous and at
times suicidal, with the potential of claiming human lives whether out of a
stampede, panic or asphyxiation in the event of a fire. It does not
require any extra expertise for a cinema owner or the occupier of a cinema
theatre to foresee such consequences and to take remedial steps to prevent
the same as a part of his duty to care towards those visiting the theatre.

112. The second and equally important dimension relevant to the duty of an
occupier of a cinema theatre concerns the statutory provisions that
regulate such duties and make certain safety measures essential. As
previously discussed, the effect of such statutory provisions where the
nature of care is specifically outlined is that an occupier cannot argue in
defence that any danger arising out of violation or non-adherence to the
provisions of the statute was not reasonably foreseeable by him. The
decision of the House of Lords in Lochgelly’s case (supra) succinctly
explains “the effect of an additional statutory burden cast upon an
occupier where a common law duty already exists.”

113. The third dimension that must also be constantly borne in mind while
determining whether the occupier had breached his duty to care towards the
safety of the patrons is “that degree of care which an occupier is required
to take is commensurate with the risk created” as held by Lord Macmillan in
Read v. J. Lyons & Co. Ltd. [1947] AC 156 and an earlier decision in
Glasgow Corp v. Muir (1943) AC 448. The application of that proposition is
appropriate in the case at hand where the installation of a DVB transformer
within the cinema premises had increased the degree of risk on account of
fire hazard which resultantly enhanced the degree of care expected of the
occupiers in maintenance of the safety measures for the safety of those
inside the theatre.

114. Summarising the common law duty as enhanced and reinforced by the
provisions of Cinematograph Act, 1952 and the DCR, 1953, the appellant-
Ansal brothers as occupiers of the cinema were duty bound to take care and
such care included the care to:

(i) To provide a seating arrangement which ensured easy access to
exits to all patrons in the event of an emergency, wherever they may
be seated.

(ii) To provide vertical and horizontal gangways of appropriate width
along all sides of the auditorium/balcony as well as down the centre
of the seating accommodation to provide convenient access to the
exits.

(iii) To provide an adequate number of well-marked exits suitably
spaced along both sides of the auditorium/balcony and along the back
thereof, leading directly into at least two independent thoroughfares
so as to provide speedy egress to the patrons.

(iv) To provide at least two stairways of adequate width for public
use, providing access to every upper floor in the building.

(v) To ensure that there was no obstruction in the gangways and
other pathways to the exits, as well as the staircases leading to open
space.

(vi) To provide emergency lighting and well-lit exit signs for use in
the event of a power failure or other emergency in order to guide
patrons from out of the dark.

(vii) To put in place a working public address and/or alarm system to
warn patrons in the event of any danger so that they may exit from the
premises without delay or loss of time.

(viii) To provide an adequate number of fire extinguishers and/or
other fire-fighting equipment and to keep them readily available for
use in an emergency at all times.

(ix) To appoint an adequate number of torch men and persons in charge
of the fire-fighting equipment to be present throughout the duration
of a film exhibition to aid and guide patrons out of the theatre as
and when such a need arises.

(viii) Whether the accused were negligent and if so, whether the negligence
was gross:
115. The Courts below have concurrently found that the occupiers of the
cinema building had committed several deviations from the sanctioned
building plan apart from breaches of statutory provisions. These deviations
and breaches may not have directly contributed to the death of the victims
in the instant case but the same cannot be said to be wholly irrelevant for
purposes of determining whether or not the occupiers had neglected their
duty to care and if they had, whether such neglect was gross in nature.
The concurrent findings of the Courts below in the nature of deviations
from the sanctioned building plan of the cinema and the statutory
requirements may be enumerated as under:-

(1) That the occupiers permitted the installation of a DVB transformer
within the cinema premises, although the building plan did not envisage or
permit any such installation. The occupier’s contention that the
installation of the transformer was under coercion remained
unsubstantiated.

(2) That the rear parapet wall behind the transformer room was
constructed upto the ceiling height thereby preventing smoke rising from
the burning transformer oil and the cars parked in the parking area from
dispersing into the open atmosphere.

(3) That the stairway leading to the terrace was obstructed by the
installation of a full width door in the staircase landing as well as
construction of a reception counter in the staircase leading to the terrace
by Sarin Associates one of the tenants inducted by the owners.

(4) That the exhaust fans opened into the staircase rather than into an
open space thereby defeating the purpose of their installation.

(5) That a homeopathic dispensary was constructed above the ramp behind
the transformer room which was found to be and described as a fire hazard
during MCD inspections since 1983.

(6)That the staircase around the lift leading to the basement was being
used by M/s Sehgal Carpets by conversion of that area into an office was an
additional hazard and against the sanctioned plan.

(7) That the enclosure of the open space adjoining the transformer room
to be used as a ticket counter and the creation of a glazed verandah next
to the Manager’s room were also deviations from the building plan.

(8) That conversion of the Operator room on the second floor into
an office-cum-bar room too was a deviation.

(9) That letting out of the top floor as office space with wooden
partitions was also a deviation and was pointed out to be a safety hazard
during fire safety inspections.

(10) That out of 22 fire extinguishers seized after the incident from
various parts of the building including the parking lot and balcony, 10
were empty, 4 were not working properly while 1 was leaking from the top.
This meant that only 7 of such extinguishers were in working condition.

(11) That neither the Projector Operator nor any other person present
during the exhibition of the cinematograph was trained in fire fighting as
required in DCR 1953.

116. The above deviations, it was rightly contended by Mr. Jethmalani did
not constitute the causa causans for the death of the victims in the
instant case. Even so two inferences are clearly available from these
deviations namely (i) That the occupiers of the cinema building were not
sensitive towards the demands of safety of the patrons and amply showed
that the safety of the visitors to the theatre was a matter of low priority
for the occupiers and (ii) That the deviations raised the level of risk to
the safety of the patrons which in turn required the occupiers to
proportionately raise the level of their vigil and the degree of care in
regard to the safety of those visiting the cinema. Instead of removing the
deviations and the perceived fire hazards and thereby reducing the risk of
exposing the patrons to avoidable dangers to their safety the occupiers
committed several breaches that directly contributed to the loss of
valuable human lives. For instance both the Courts have concurrently held
the following breaches to have been established, by the evidence adduced by
the prosecution:

1) That the cinema did not have any functional Public Address System
necessary to sound an alarm in the event of a fire or other
emergency. The PA system of the cinema was found to be
dysfunctional at the time of the occurrence hence could not be used
to warn or to sound an alarm to those inside the cinema to exit
from the hall and the balcony.

2) That the emergency lighting even though an essential requirement
and so also the well-lit exits stipulated under the DCR 1953 were
conspicuous by their absence. The failure of the electric supply
on account of tripping of the main supply lines consequently
plunged the cinema hall and the balcony area into darkness leaving
those inside the balcony panic stricken and groping in the dark to
find exits in which process they got fatally exposed to the carbon
monoxide laden smoke that had filled the hall.

3) That blocking of the vertical gangway along the rightmost wall and
the narrowing of the vertical gangway along the right side of the
middle exit by installation of additional seats had the effect of
depriving the patrons of the facility to use the right side gangway
and the gangway along the middle exit for quick dispersal from the
balcony

4) That the closure of the right side exit in the balcony area by
installation of a private eight-seater box permanently cut off
access to the right side staircase and thereby violated not only
the DCR 1953 but also prevented the patrons from using that exit
and the right side stairway for quick dispersal from the balcony.

5) That the introduction of the new exit in the left wing of the
balcony in lieu of the closed right side exit did not make up for
the breach of Para 10 (4), First Schedule of DCR 1953 which
mandates that exits on both sides of the auditorium/balcony.

6) That failure to introduce fourth exit even when the total number of
seats in the balcony had gone above 300 with the addition of 15
more seats installed in 1980, further compromised the safety
requirements statutorily prescribed under the DCR.

7) That bolting of the middle entry/exit doors leading into the foyer
obstructed the flow of patrons out of the balcony exposing them to
poisonous gas that spread into the hall for a longer period then
what was safe for the patrons to survive.

8) That the absence of any staff members to open the exit gates and to
generally assist the patrons in quick dispersal from the balcony
resulted in the patrons inhaling poisonous gas and dying because of
asphyxiation.

9) That the bolting of the door leading from the foyer into the right
side staircase and outside which had to be forced open also
prevented the quick dispersal and led to a large number of
causalities.

10) That construction of the refreshment counter near the exit gate of
the first floor and another near the second floor inhibited free
passage of the patrons.

117. That the breaches enumerated above have been proved by the evidence
adduced at the trial is concluded by the concurrent findings recorded by
the two Courts below. There is, in our opinion, no perversity in the
conclusions drawn by the Courts below on the aspects enumerated above. In
the light of those conclusions it can be safely said that the occupiers had
committed a breach of their duty to care and were, therefore, negligent.

118. The argument that the incident in question was not reasonably
foreseeable must in the light of what is stated above be rejected. So also,
the argument that since no untoward incident had occurred for many years
prior to the occurrence that claimed so many lives, the same indicated that
the occurrence was not reasonable foreseeable deserves to be mentioned only
to be rejected. A similar contention had in fact been rejected by this
Court even in Kurban Hussein’s case (supra), where this Court said :

“In particular it is urged that this method of work has
been going on for some years and no fire had broken out and this
shows that though there may have been possible danger to human
life from such fire or combustible matter there was no probable
danger. We are unable to accept this contention. The fact that
there was no fire earlier in this room even though the process
had been going on for some years is not a criterion for
determining whether the omission was such as would result in
probable danger to human life.”
119. To the same effect is the observation made by this Court in State
through PS Lodhi Colony, New Delhi v. Sanjeev Nanda (2012) 8 SCC 450, where
this Court held that just because the accused in that case had driven for
sixteen kilometers without any untoward incident did not by itself provide
him a defence, or prove his innocence.

(viii) Whether the accused were negligent and if so, whether the negligence
was gross:

120. The question then is whether the negligence of Ansal brothers-the
occupiers of the cinema was so gross so as to be culpable under Section
304A of the IPC. Our answer to that question is in the affirmative. The
reasons are not far to seek. In the first place the degree of care
expected from an occupier of a place which is frequented everyday by
hundreds and if not thousands is very high in comparison to any other place
that is less frequented or more sparingly used for public functions . The
higher the number of visitors to a place and the greater the frequency of
such visits, the higher would be the degree of care required to be observed
for their safety. The duty is continuing which starts with every
exhibition of cinematograph and continues till the patrons safely exit from
the cinema complex. That the patrons are admitted to the cinema for a
price, makes them contractual invitees or visitors qua whom the duty to
care is even otherwise higher than others. The need for high degree of care
for the safety of the visitors to such public places offering entertainment
is evident from the fact that the Parliament has enacted the Cinematograph
Act and the Rules, which cast specific obligations upon the
owners/occupiers/licensees with a view to ensuring the safety of those
frequenting such places. The annual inspections and the requirements of No
Objection Certificates to be obtained from authorities concerned is yet
another indicator of how important the law considers the safety of the
patrons to be. Any question as to the nature and the extent of breach must
therefore be seen in the backdrop of the above duties and obligations that
arise both under the common law and the statutory provisions alike. Judged
in the above backdrop it is evident that the occupiers in the present case
had showed scant regard both for the letter of law as also their duty under
the common law to care for the safety of their patrons. The occupiers not
only committed deviations from the sanctioned building plan that heightened
the dangers to the safety of the visitors but continued to operate the
cinema in contemptuous disregard for the requirements of law in the process
exposing the patrons to a high degree of risk to their lives which some of
them eventually lost in the incident in question. Far from taking any
additional care towards safety of the visitors to the cinema the occupiers
asked for permission to place additional seats that further compromised the
safety requirements and raised the level of risks to the patrons. The
history of litigation between the occupiers on the one hand and the
Government on the other regarding the removal of the additional seats
permitted during national emergency and their opposition to the concerns
expressed by the authorities on account of increased fire hazards as also
their insistence that the addition or continuance of the seats would not
affect the safety requirements of the patrons clearly showed that they were
more concerned with making a little more money out of the few additional
seats that were added to the cinema in the balcony rather than maintaining
the required standards of safety in discharge of the common law duty but
also under the provisions of the DCR 1953.

(ix) Further contentions urged in defence and findings thereon:

121. Appearing for the appellant Sushil Ansal, Mr. Jethmalani strenuously
argued that the death of 59 persons in the incident in question was caused
by the fire that started from the DVB transformer, which was poorly
maintained and shabbily repaired by the DVB officials on the morning of
13th June, 1997 the date of incident. The causa causans for the loss of
human lives thus was the transformer that caught fire because of the
neglect of the DVB officials who did not even have a crimping machine to
repair the transformer properly. The absence of an oil soaking pit in the
transformer room was also a reason for the oil to spill out from the
transformer room to spread the fire to the parking area from where smoke
containing lethal carbon monoxide rose, and due to chimney effect, entered
the hall to cause asphyxiation to those inside the balcony. He urged that
there was no evidence that any death had taken place inside the balcony
which proved that most if not all the patrons sitting in the balcony had
exited from that area, but died on account of the poisonous effect of the
gas enough to kill human being within minutes of exposure. Heavy reliance
was placed by Mr. Jethmalani upon the decision of this Court in Kurban
Hussein’s case (supra) in support of his submission that the causa causans
in the case at hand was the fire in the DVB transformer and not the alleged
deviations in the building plan or the seating arrangement or the
obstructions in the staircase, that led out of the cinema precincts.

122. Mr. Harish Salve, appearing for the CBI and Mr. K.T.S. Tulsi
appearing for the Victims Association contended that while there was no
quarrel with the proposition that death must be shown to have occurred as a
direct, immediate or proximate result of the act of rashness or negligence,
it was not correct to say that the deaths in this case had occurred because
of the fire in the transformer. It was also not correct to draw any
analogy on facts with any other decided case including that of Kurban
Hussein (supra). Failure of the victims to rapidly exit from the smoke
filled atmosphere in the balcony area because of obstructions and
deviations proved at the trial was the real, direct and immediate cause for
the death of the victims in the present case who would have safely escaped
the poisonous carbon monoxide gas only if there were proper gangways,
exits, emergency lights, an alarm system in working condition and human
assistance available to those trapped inside the hall.

123. We have at some length dealt with the ingredients of an offence
punishable under Section 304A of the IPC in the earlier part of this
judgment. One of those ingredients indeed is that the rash or negligent act
of the accused ought to be the direct, immediate and proximate cause of the
death. We have in that regard referred to the decisions of this Court to
which we need not refer again. The principle of law that death must be
shown to be the direct, immediate and proximate result of the rash or
negligent act is well accepted and not in issue before us as an abstract
proposition. What is argued and what falls for our determination is whether
the causa causans in the case at hand was the fire in the DVB transformer
as argued by the defence or the failure of the victims to rapidly exit from
the balcony area. Two aspects in this connection need be borne in mind.
The first is that the victims in the instant case did not die of burn
injuries. All of them died because of asphyxiation on account of prolonged
exposure to poisonous gases that filled the cinema hall including the
balcony area. Fire, whatever may have been its source, whether from the
DVB transformer or otherwise, was the causa sine qua non for without fire
there would be no smoke possible and but for smoke in the balcony area
there would have been no casualities. That is not, however, the same thing
as saying that it was the fire or the resultant smoke that was the causa
causans. It was the inability of the victims to move out of the smoke
filled area that was the direct cause of their death. Placed in a smoke
filled atmosphere any one would distinctively try to escape from it to save
himself. If such escape were to be delayed or prevented the causa causans
for death is not the smoke but the factors that prevent or delay such
escape. Let us assume for instance that even when there are adequate
number of exits, gangways and all other safety measures in place but the
exits are locked preventing people from escaping. The cause of death would
in such case be the act of preventing people from exiting from the smoke
filled hall, which may depending upon whether the act was deliberately
intended to cause death or unintended due to negligence, amount to culpable
homicide amounting to murder or an act of gross negligence punishable under
Section 304A. Similarly take a case where instead of four exits required
under the relevant Rules, the owner of a cinema provides only one exit,
which prevents the patrons from exiting rapidly from the smoke filled
atmosphere, the causa causans would be the negligent act of providing only
one exit instead of four required for the purpose.

124. It would in such circumstances make no difference whether the fire
had started from a source within the cinema complex or outside, or whether
the occupiers of the cinema were responsible for the fire or someone else.
The important question to ask is what the immediate cause of the death was.
If failure to exit was the immediate cause of death nothing further need
be considered for that would constitute the causa causans. That is what
happened in the case at hand. Smoke entered the cinema hall and the balcony
but escape was prevented or at least delayed because of breach of the
common law and statutory duty to care.

125. The second aspect is that while the rash or negligent act of the
accused must be the causa causans for the death, the question whether and
if so what was the causa causans in a given case, would depend upon the
fact situation in which the occurrence has taken place and the question
arises. This Court has viewed the causa causans in each decided case, in
the facts and circumstances of that case. If Hatim’s failure to stir the
hot wet paint while Rosin was being poured into it was held to be causa
causans, in Kurban Hussein’s case (supra), the failure of the motorist to
look ahead and see a pedestrian crossing the road even when the motorist
was driving within the speed limit prescribed was held to be the causa
causans for the death in Bhalchandra Waman Pathe v. State of Maharashtra
(supra). In Bhalchandra @ Bapu and Anr. v. State of Maharashtra (supra)
where an explosion in a factory manufacturing crackers claimed lives, this
Court found that use of explosives with sensitive compositions was the
immediate cause of the explosion that killed those working in the factory.
In Rustom Sherior Irani’s case (supra), this Court found the new chimney of
the Bakery was being erected without the advice of a properly qualified
person and that the factory owner was responsible for neglect that caused
the explosion and not the mason employed by him for erecting the chimney.
The decision in Kurban Hussein’s case (supra) was cited but distinguished
on facts holding that the choice of the low diameter pipe and engaging a
mere mason not properly qualified for doing the job were the cause of the
accident resulting in causalities.

126. It is in that view, not correct to say that the causa causans in the
present case ought to be determined by matching the colours of this case
with those of Kurban Hussein’s case (supra). The ratio of that case lies
not in the peculiar facts in which the question arose but on the statement
of law which was borrowed from the judgment of Sir Lawrence Jenkins in
Emperor v. Omkar Rampratap (supra). The principle of law enunciated in
that case is not under challenge and indeed was fairly conceded by Mr.
Salve and Mr. Tulsi. What they argued was that when applied to the facts
proved in the present case, the causa causans was not the fire in the
transformer but the breaches committed by the occupiers of the cinema which
prevented or at least delayed rapid dispersal of the patrons thereby
fatally affecting them because of carbon monoxide laden gas in the smoke
filling the atmosphere. The causa causans indeed was the closure of the
exit on the right side, the closure of the right side gangway, the failure
to provide the required number of exits, failure to provide emergency alarm
system and even emergency lights or to keep the exit signs illuminated and
to provide help to the victims when they needed the same most, all
attributable to Ansal brothers, the occupiers of the cinema. We have,
therefore, no hesitation in rejecting the argument of Mr. Jethmalani, which
he presented with commendable clarity, persuasive skill and tenacity at his
command.

127. Mr. Jethamalani next argued that since the licensing authority had on
the basis of the no objection certificates issued by the concerned
authorities granted and from time to time renewed the Cinema licence, the
appellant-Ansal brothers were protected under Section 79 of the IPC for
they in good faith believed themselves to be justified in law in exhibiting
films with the seating and other arrangements sanctioned under the said
licence. Reliance in support of that submission was placed by Mr.
Jethmalani, upon the decision of this Court in Raj Kapoor v. Laxman (1980)
2 SCC 175.

128. Mr. Tulsi on the contrary argued that reliance upon Section 79 of the
IPC and the decision of this Court in Raj Kapoor’s case (supra) misplaced.
He urged that immunity from penal action under the provisions of Section 79
of the IPC was founded on good faith which was totally absent in the case
at hand where the occupiers of the cinema and even those who were
instrumental in the grant and renewal of the licence and no objections were
accused and even convicted by the Courts below. There was, therefore, no
question of the appellants taking shelter under the licence, the terms
whereof were in any case breached by them to the misfortune of those who
lost their lives in the incident.

129. Section 79 of the IPC may, at this stage, be extracted:
1 “Section 79. Act done by a person justified, or by mistake of fact
believing himself justified, by law – Nothing is an offence
which is done by any person who is justified by law, or who by
reason of a mistake of fact and not by reason of a mistake of
law in good faith, believes himself to be justified by law, in
doing it.”
130. A reading of the above shows that nothing would constitute an offence
under the IPC if the act done is:

i) Justified in law,

ii) The act is done by a person who by reason of a mistake of
fact in good faith believes himself to be justified by law in
doing it.
131. In the case at hand the defence relies upon the latter of the two
situations, in which the benefit of penal immunity will flow if (a) the
person doing the act is acting under a mistake of fact and (b) the person
doing the act in good faith believes himself to be justified by law in
doing it. The expression ‘good faith’ is defined in Section 52 of the IPC
as under:

“52. “Good faith”.– Nothing is said to be done or believed in
“good faith” which is done or believed without due care and
attention.”
132. In order that Ansal brothers, occupiers of the cinema could claim the
benefit of Section 79, they were required to prove that the belief which
they harboured about their act being justified in law was in good faith.
The use of expression ‘good faith’ necessarily brings in the question
whether the person concerned had acted with due care and caution. If they
had not, part (b) of Section 79 would have no application to the case.

133. The duty to care for the safety of the patrons, we have explained in
the earlier part, was cast upon the Ansal brothers occupiers of the cinema
both in common law as also in terms of statutory provisions on the subject.
We have also held that the evidence adduced at the trial and the
concurrent findings recorded by the Courts below, have, established the
breach of that duty in several respects. For instance absence of any
Public Address System to warn those inside the cinema in the event of any
emergency was in the facts and circumstances of the case a part of the duty
to care which was breached by the occupiers. This duty was a continuing
obligation and had to be strictly discharged in respect of each cinema show
conducted in the theatre. The grant of a licence or its renewal by the
licensing authority did not in any manner relieve the occupiers of that
obligation which was implicit even in the grant and the renewals thereof.
Similarly, the requirement that the cinema must have emergency lights, fire
extinguishers and that the occupiers must provide help to the patrons in
the event of any emergency ensuring rapid dispersal from the enclosed area
were obligations that too were implicit in the issue and renewal of the
cinematograph licence. Breach of all these obligations could not be
justified on the ground that a licence was granted or renewed in favour of
the occupiers, licensee and no matter the duty to care towards safety of
the patrons was neglected by the theatre owners or occupiers. Failures in
the event of a mishap like the one at hand on account of failure of the
occupiers to discharge their legal obligations to take care for the safety
of the patrons cannot be held to be immune from prosecution simply because
a licence to exhibit the films had been granted or renewed from time to
time.

134. The argument that the seating arrangement in the balcony, the
placement of the gangways, the number and the positioning of the exits,
were matters which were examined and approved by the concerned authority,
thereby entitling the occupiers to a bona fide and good faith belief that
they were on the right side of law, no doubt looks attractive on first
blush but does not stand closer scrutiny. The essence of Section 79 is a
belief entertained in good faith about the legitimacy of what is being done
by the person concerned. Absence of good faith is enough to deny to him
the benefit that he claims. Good faith has in turn to be proved by
reference to the attendant circumstances. That is because good faith is a
state of mind which can be inferred only from the circumstances surrounding
the act in question. The test of ordinary prudence applied to such proved
attendant circumstances can help the Court determine whether an act or
omission was in good faith or otherwise. Having said that, we would simply
recall our findings recorded earlier that the fundamental obligation and
duty to care at all times rested with the occupiers of the cinema and the
licensee thereof. In the discharge of that duty the occupiers were not
entitled to argue that so long as there was a license in their favour, they
would not be accountable for the loss of life or limb of anyone qua whom
the occupiers owed that duty. The duty to care for the safety of the
patrons, even independent of the statutory additions made to the same,
required the occupiers to take all such steps and measures, as would have
ensured quick dispersal from the cinema building of all the patrons inside
the premises in the event of an emergency. The statutory requirements were,
in that sense, only additional safeguards which in no way mitigated the
common law duty to care, the degree of such care or the manner in which the
same was to be discharged.

135. That apart, a seating plan, which was in breach of the statutory
provisions and compromised the safety requirements prescribed under the DCR
1953, could hardly support a belief in good faith that exhibition of films
with such a plan was legally justified. That is so especially when the
repeal of notification dated 30th September, 1976 by which Uphaar was
permitted 100 more seats was followed by a demand for removal of the
additional seats. Instead of doing so the occupiers/owners assailed that
demand in Writ Petition No.1010 of 1979 before the High Court of Delhi in
which the High Court directed the authorities to have a fresh look from the
stand point of substantial compliance of the provisions of the
Cinematograph Act. The High Court observed:

“11. Proposition No. 3: It has been already made clear above
that the relaxation was granted after considering the public
health and the fire hazard aspects. It is also clear that the
very fact that the relaxation could not be granted after bearing
these main considerations in mind would show that there was some
rule for the extension of the sitting accommodation in these
theatres within the Rules, though the provision of some of the
additional seats may perhaps have been to some extent contrary
to some of the Rules. It is not necessary for us to speculate on
this question. It is enough to say that the result of the
cancellation of the relaxation is simply the withdrawal of the
relaxation. It does not automatically mean that all the
additional seats which were installed in the cinema theatres
were contrary to the Rules and must, therefore, be dismantled
without any consideration as to how many of these seats were in
consonance with the Rules and how many of them were contrary to
the Rules.

12. Our finding on proposition No. 3 is, therefore, that the
Administration will apply their mind to the additional seats
with a view to determine which of them have contravened which
rules and to what extent. They will bear in mind that the
compliance with the Rules is to be substantial and not rigid and
inflexible.”
136. If while carrying out the above directive, the authorities concerned
turned a blind eye to the fundamental requirement of the Rules by ignoring
the closure of the right side exit and gangway prescribed as an essential
requirement under DCR 1953, they acted in breach of the rules and in the
process endangered the safety of the patrons. We shall presently turn to
the question whether the repeal of the notification had the effect of
obliging the occupier/licensee of the cinema to remove the seats and
restore the gangways and exits as originally sanctioned. But we cannot
ignore the fact that the occupiers/licensee of the cinema, had opposed the
removal of the additional seats even when the respondents in the writ
petition had expressed concerns about the safety of the patrons if the
additional seats were not removed which removal it is evident would have by
itself resulted in the restoration of the right side gangway. So also the
authorities ought to have insisted on the restoration of the right side
exit by removal of the eight-seater box which was allowed in the year 1978,
ostensibly because with the right side gangway getting closed by additional
seats occupying that space the authorities considered the continuance of
the right side exit to be of no practical use. Withdrawal of relaxation in
the year 1979 ought to have resulted in the reversal of not only the fixing
of additional seats but all subsequent decisions that proceeded on the
basis thereof. It is difficult to appreciate how even applying the test of
substantial compliance the authorities could consider the theatre to be
compliant with the DCR 1953 especially in so far as the same related to an
important aspect like gangways and exits so very vital for speedy dispersal
from the cinema hall. To add further confusion to the already compromised
safety situation, the occupiers asked for addition of 15 more seats in the
year 1980, which were also allowed, taking the number of seats in the
balcony to 302, thereby, raising the requirement of exits from 3 to 4 in
terms of para 10(2) of the First Schedule to DCR 1953. This requirement
was not relaxable under proviso to Rule 3(3) of DCR 1953 and yet the
authorities gave a go by to the same in the process, permitting yet another
breach that had the potential and did actually prove to be a safety hazard
for those inside the theatre on the fateful day. It is in the above
backdrop difficult to accept the submission of the appellant occupiers that
they acted in good faith and are, therefore, protected against prosecution
under Section 79 of the IPC.

137. There is yet another angle from which the matter can be examined.
Proviso to Section 5A of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 protects the applicant
seeking issue of a certificate, the distributor and the exhibitor as also
any other person to whom the rights in the film may have passed against
punishment under any law relating to obscenity in respect of any matter
contained in the film for which a certificate has been granted under
clauses (a) or (b) of sub-section (1) to Section 5A. It reads:
“Provided that the applicant for the certificate, any
distributor or exhibitor or any other person to whom the rights
in the film have passed shall not be liable for punishment under
any law relating to obscenity in respect of any matter contained
in the film for which certificate has been granted under clause
(a) or clause (b)”

138. The above was added by Act 49 of 1981 with effect from 1st June,
1983. The decision in Raj Kapoor’s case (supra) relied upon by Mr.
Jethmalani was earlier in point of time and is distinguishable because the
question there related to the effect of a certificate issued under Section
5A vis-à-vis the prosecution of the producer, director or the holder of
certificate for obscenity punishable under Section 292 of the IPC or any
other law for that matter. The addition of proviso to Section 5A (1)
(supra) in any case sets the controversy at rest and grants immunity to the
person exhibiting a film to the public in accordance with the certificate
issued by the board. No such protection against prosecution is, however,
available to the holder of a cinema licence against prosecution for a rash
or negligent act resulting in the death of anyone visiting the cinema and
punishable under Section 304A of the IPC. In the absence of any such
protection against prosecution for rash or negligent act resulting in
death, unlike the protection that the statute itself grants against
prosecution for obscenity, is a circumstance that strongly suggests that no
such protection was intended to be given to a licence holder against any
such prosecution. The argument that absence of any such protection
notwithstanding the occupiers/owners of the cinema may be protected in
terms of Section 79 of the IPC is obviously founded on the plea that the
appellants were under a “mistake of fact” when they in good faith believed
themselves to be justified in law in exhibiting films in the theatre, by
reason of a license issued under the Act. The plea that the appellants were
under a ‘mistake of fact’, however, remains unsubstantiated. The concept
of mistake of fact has been explained by Russel on Crime in the following
words:
“When a person is ignorant of the existence of relevant facts,
or mistaken as to them, his conduct may produce harmful results
which he neither intended nor foresaw.

xxx xxx xxx
Mistake can be admitted as a defence provided (1) that the state
of things believed to exist would, if true, have justified the
act done, and (2) the mistake must be reasonable, and (3) that
the mistake relates to fact and not to law.”

139. Ratanlal and Dhirajlal in their book “Law of Crimes” (23rd Edn.) Page
199 similarly explains the term “mistake” in the following words:
“’Mistake’ is not mere forgetfulness. It is a slip ‘made, not by
design, but by mischance’. Mistake, as the term is used in
jurisprudence, is an erroneous mental condition, conception or
conviction induced by ignorance, misapprehension or
misunderstanding of the truth, and resulting in some act or
omission done or suffered erroneously by one or both of the
parties to a transaction, but without its erroneous character
being intended or known at that time.

It may be laid down as a general rule that an alleged
offender is deemed to have acted under that state of things
which he in good faith and on reasonable grounds believed to
exist when he did the act alleged to be an offence.”

140. In the case at hand, the appellants-occupiers of the cinema, have not
been in a position to identify the facts qua which they were under a
mistake nor is it clear as to how any such mistake of fact would have
justified their act in law, leave alone satisfy the third requirement of
the mistake of fact being reasonable in nature. The three tests referred
to by Russel in the passage extracted above are not, therefore, satisfied
in the case at hand to entitle the appellant occupiers to the benefit of
Section 79 of the IPC.

141. Mr. Jethmalani next contended that the withdrawal of notification
dated 30th September, 1976 did not have the effect of creating an
obligation for the occupiers of the cinema to remove the additional seats
that had been permitted under the said notification. In support of that
submission, he placed reliance upon Section 6 of the General Clauses Act,
1897 and two decisions of this Court which according to him support the
proposition that the principles underlying Section 6 are attracted even to
notifications no matter Section 6 does not in terms apply. Elaborating his
submission Mr. Jethmalani contended that the repeal of an enactment does
not affect the previous operation of any such enactment or anything duly
done or suffered thereunder. On the same principle withdrawal of
notification dated 30th September, 1976 could not, according to Mr.
Jethmalani, affect the previous operation of the said notification or
anything duly done or suffered thereunder. This, contended Mr. Jethmalani,
implied that additional seats permitted under notification dated 30th
September, 1976 could continue in the theatre, no matter the notification
under which they were permitted was withdrawn.

142. We regret our inability to accept that line of reasoning. We say so
for reasons more than one. In the first place Section 6 of the General
Clauses Act does not, in our opinion, have any application to repeal of any
rule, notification or order. The provision makes no reference to repeal of
a rule, notification or order. It reads:

“6. Effect of repeal.- Where this Act, or any 1[ Central Act] or
Regulation made after the commencement of this Act, repeals any
enactment hitherto made or hereafter to be made, then, unless a
different intention appears, the repeal shall not-
(a)  revive anything not in force or existing at the time at
which the repeal takes effect; or
(b)  affect the previous operation of any enactment so repealed
or anything duly done or suffered thereunder; or
(c)  affect any right, privilege, obligation or liability
acquired, accrued or incurred under any enactment so
repealed; or
(d)  affect any penalty, forfeiture or punishment incurred in
respect of any offence committed against any enactment so
repealed; or
(e)  affect any investigation, legal proceeding or remedy in
respect of any such right, privilege, obligation,
liability, penalty, forfeiture or punishment as aforesaid;
and any such investigation, legal proceeding or remedy may be
instituted, continued or enforced, and any such penalty,
forfeiture or punishment may be imposed as if the repealing Act
or Regulation had not been passed.”

143. It is manifest from a reading of the above that the provision applies
only to repeal by (i) the General Clauses Act or (ii) by a Central Act or
(iii) by Regulation of any enactment hither to make or hereinafter to be
made. The expressions “Central Act” and “Regulation” appearing in Section
6 have been defined in Sections 3(7) and 3(50) of the General Clauses Act,
1897 respectively as under:

“3. Definitions. – In this Act, and in all Central Acts and
Regulations made after the commencement of this Act, unless
there is anything repugnant in the subject or contexts, –

xxx xxx xxx

(7) “Central Act” shall means an Act of Parliament, and shall
include –

(a) an Act of the Dominion Legislature or of the Indain
Legislature passed before the commencement of the Constitution,
and

(b) an Act made before such commencement by the Governor General
in council or the Governor General, acting in a legislative
capacity.

xxx xxx xxx

(50) “Regulation” shall mean a Regulation made by the
President [under article 240 of the Constitution and shall
include a Regulation made by the President under article 243
thereof and] a Regulation made by the Central Government under
the Government of India At, 1870, or the Government of India
Act, 1915, or the Government of India Act, 1935.”

.

144. There is in the light of the above no gainsaying that Section 6 does
not have any application to, for instance, a rule, a notification or a
circular whether statutory or otherwise. It is confined to repeal of any
enactment already in existence or made after the enactment of the General
Clauses Act, 1897 by the General Clauses Act, 1952, or a Central Act or
Regulation within the meaning of those terms as defined in Sections 3(7)
and 3(50).

145. Secondly, because the decisions in State of Orissa and Ors. v.
Titaghur Paper Mills Co. Ltd. and Anr. (1985) Supp SCC 280 and Union of
India v. Glaxo India Ltd. and Anr. (2011) 6 SCC 668 do not extend the
application of Section 6 to statutory notifications as was sought to be
argued by Mr. Jethmalani. In Titaghur Paper Mills Co. Ltd.’s case (supra),
this Court was dealing with the supersession of notifications issued under
the Orissa Sales Tax Act on the tax liability accrued under the repealed
notification. Although this Court held that a tax liability that was
already incurred under the repealed notifications would remain unaffected
by the repeal of the notification the decision does not go to the extent of
holding that Section 6 of the General Clauses Act or the principle
underlying the said provisions would be attracted to such repeal. The
reasoning for the conclusion of this Court, it appears, is based on first
principles more than Section 6 or its relevance to the question of repeal
of a notification. This is evident from the following passage from the said
decision:

“66…By repealing and replacing the previous notifications by
other notifications, the result was not to wipe out any
liability accrued under the previous notifications. If this
contention of the Respondents were to be accepted, the result
would be startling. It would mean, for example, that when a
notification has been issued under Section 5(1) prescribing a
rate of tax, and that notification is later superseded by
another notification further enhancing the rate of tax, all tax
liability under the earlier notification is wiped out and no tax
can be collected by the State Government in respect of any
transactions effected during the period when the earlier
notification was in force.”
146. In Glaxo India Ltd.‘s case (supra), all that this Court declared was
that the effect of a superseding notification would have to be determined
on a proper construction of the notification itself and not by any single
principle or legal consideration. The decision mentioned Section 6 of the
General Clauses Act only to state that it would not apply to notifications.
This is evident from the following passage from the said decision:

“39…The view of this Court in some of the decisions is that the
expression “supersession” has to be understood to amount ‘to
repeal’ and when notification is repealed, the provisions of
Section 6 of the General Clauses Act would not apply to
notifications. The question whether statutory obligations
subsist in respect of a period prior to repeal of a provision of
a Statute or any subordinate legislation promulgated thereunder
has to be ascertained on legal considerations apposite to the
particular context. The matter is essentially one of
construction. Such problems do not admit of being answered on
the basis of any single principle or legal consideration.”
(emphasis supplied)

147. Thirdly, because the effect of withdrawal of the notification in the
instant case may have to be seen and determined on first principles. We
find it difficult to appreciate how the power to withdraw a notification,
the existence whereof was not disputed by Mr. Jethmalani would remain
meaningful and could be effectively exercised if the withdrawal of such a
notification was to leave the benefit under the notification flowing in
perpetuity. The notification in question permitted additional seats to be
fixed in relaxation of the rules and, if the argument of Mr. Jethmalani was
to be accepted, such relaxation and fixation of seats would become
irreversible even when the Government could legitimately exercise the power
to recall such a relaxation. This would be anomalous and would have the
effect of emasculating the power of recall itself. The power would be
meaningful and so also its exercise, only if the same could undo whatever
had already been done under it prospectively. Such an interpretation would
not only recognize the power of withdrawal but also protect the previous
operation of the repealed notification no matter limited to the extent that
the occupiers had benefitted by fixation of such seats and collection of
the price of the tickets sold upto the date of withdrawal.

148. Last but not the least is the fact that the question whether
withdrawal of notification dated 30th September, 1976 would have the effect
of obliging the occupiers to remove the additional seats could and ought to
have been argued before the High Court in the writ petition filed by the
occupiers/owners of cinema hall, in Isherdas Sahni & Bros and Anr. v. The
Delhi Administration and Ors. AIR 1980 Delhi 147. No such contention was,
however, urged before the High Court in support of the challenge to the
demand for the removal of the seats which demand was based entirely on
assumption that the withdrawal of the notification has had the effect of
obliging the owners/occupiers to restore status quo ante. The High Court
took the view that recall of the notification would call for a review qua
each cinema hall to determine whether the continuance of the seats was
substantially compliant with DCR, 1953. The High Court accordingly directed
the authorities concerned to have a fresh look applying the test of
substantial compliance while determining the liability of the
owners/occupiers to remove the additional seats. The occupiers accepted
that direction. An exercise was accordingly undertaken though in our view,
unsatisfactorily, for the authorities concerned failed to look into the
safety requirements which ought to have been given foremost importance in
any such process. The least, therefore, that can be said is that the
argument that no obligation arose to remove the additional seats by reason
of the repeal of the notification dated 30th September, 1976 is untenable
not only on merits, but also because the same is no longer available in
view of what has been stated above, and the fact that the question stands
concluded by the judgment of this Court in Isherdas Sahni’s case (supra).
149. We may at this stage deal with a threefold submission made by Mr.
Jethmalani. He contended that the appellant Ansal Brothers were entitled
to assume that the licensing authority had done its duty and satisfied
itself about the premises being adequately safe for those visiting the
same. Reliance in support of the submission was made by Mr. Jethmalani
upon the English decisions in Green v. Fibreglass Ltd. 1958 (2) QBD 245,
Gee v. The Metropolitan Railway Company 1873 VIII Q.B. 161 and Grant v. Sun
Shipping Co. Ltd. and Anr. 1948 AC 549.

150. The second limb of Mr. Jethmalani’s contention was that having
delegated their duties to persons like R.M. Puri whole-time Director and
the Managers employed for ensuring safety of those visiting the cinema, the
Ansal brothers were entitled to assume that those incharge of their duties
would faithfully and effectively discharge the same in a prudent manner.
The employers of such employees could not be held vicariously liable under
the IPC for the failure of the latter to do what was enjoined upon them in
terms of the duties attached to their employment. Support for that
proposition was drawn by Mr. Jethmalani from the English decision in
Hazeldine v. C.A. Daw and Son Ltd. and Ors. (1941) 2 KB 343. The third limb
of the argument of the learned counsel was that having convicted and
sentenced the gatekeeper for the offence punishable under Section 304-A,
the High Court could not hold the Ansals guilty or punish them for the same
offence since there is no vicarious liability in criminal law.

151. In Gee v. The Metropolitan Railway Company (supra), a train passenger
leant on the door of a railway carriage believing it to have been properly
fastened, when in fact it was not. This resulted in the door flying open
and the passenger getting thrown out of the carriage. The question was
whether there was any contributory negligence on the part of the train
passenger. The Court held that the passenger was entitled to assume that
the door had been properly fastened and that the accident had been caused
by the defendants’ negligence. The Court observed:

“Because I am of opinion that any passenger in a railway
carriage, who rises for the purpose either of looking out of the
window, or dealing with, and touching, and bringing his body in
contact with the door for any lawful purpose whatsoever, has a
right to assume, and is justified in assuming, that the door is
properly fastened; and if by reason of its not being properly
fastened his lawful act causes the door to fly open, the
accident is caused by the defendants’ negligence.”

152. The above decision was affirmed by the House of Lords in Grant v. Sun
Shipping Co. Ltd. and Anr. (supra) where an injury was caused to a
stevedore on a ship when he wrongly assumed that no hatch was left
uncovered and unlit and therefore fell into the hatch. The Court in that
case also was concerned with the question of contributory negligence. It
is noteworthy that the Court qualified the principle stated in Gee v. The
Metropolitan Railway Company’s case (supra) by holding that a prudent man
would guard against the possible negligence of others when experience shows
such negligence to be common.

153. In Green v. Fibreglass Ltd. (supra), a cleaning lady was injured due
to faulty wiring on the premises where she was invited to work. It was
held that the occupiers of the premises should be taken to have discharged
their duty to the plaintiff as inviters by employing competent electrical
contractors and by taking the precaution of rewiring the premises before
they began to occupy the same. If some act was to be performed which
called for special knowledge and experience which the inviter could not be
expected to possess, he fulfilled his duty of care by employing a qualified
and reputable expert to do the work.

154. It appears from a reading of the above cases that the principle that
an occupier is entitled to assume that others have done their duty is
applicable, provided that experience has not revealed to him that the
negligence of others is common, nor did he at any time have reason to
believe that his premises was unsafe. It is difficult for the occupiers in
the present case to argue that they did not have reason to believe that the
premises was unsafe, given the occurrence of a similar fire in 1989, as
well as the number of occasions on which defects in their premises had been
pointed out to them. Moreover, although Section 12 of the Cinematograph
Act did require the licensing authority to take in to account substantial
compliance with the rules, as well as existence of adequate safety
precautions in the premises, Rule 10(1) of DCR, 1953 unambiguously cast the
responsibility for maintaining such compliance and safety upon the
occupier. The Act and Rules are silent regarding the consequences to be
faced by a licensing authority who does not fulfill his duty, however,
Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act imposes a penalty on the occupier of a
licensed premises who violates the conditions of the cinema license. One
such condition in the present case was compliance with the First Schedule
of the DCR, 1953. Therefore, this is not a situation where the law treats
the occupier as an ignorant person who requires experts to verify the
safety of his premises. Rather, the Act places an independent obligation
upon him to maintain compliance with the rules, irrespective of the
assessment of the public authorities.
155. It is, therefore, difficult to accept the argument that the occupiers
in the present case blindly accepted the assessment of the inspecting and
licensing authorities. If that were to be true, they ought not to have
resisted the removal of 43 extra seats in the balcony as ordered by the
licensing authority pursuant to the withdrawal of the 1976 notification,
and they ought not to have failed to cure the defects in their premises
pointed out by the MCD after the inspection in 1983.

156. Reliance by Mr. Jethmalani upon the decision in Hazeldine’s case
(supra) to support the second limb of his argument is also, in our view,
misplaced. That was a case, where the landlord had employed a firm of
engineers to adjust, clean and lubricate the machinery of the lift once
every month, to repack the glands when needed and to report to him if any
repairs were needed. An employee of the engineers engaged for the purpose
repacked one of the glands but failed to replace it properly thereby
causing the gland to fracture when the lift was worked and an accident in
which the plaintiff was injured. The Court held that the landlord had
discharged his obligation to keep the lift reasonably safe by employing a
competent firm of engineers. The owner of the lift was not, observed the
Court, aware of any defect or danger in operating the lift.
157. The fact situation in the case at hand is entirely different. Here
the duty to care for the safety of the invitees lies upon the occupiers not
only under the common law but even under the statutory enactment. More
importantly, the occupiers have, as seen in the earlier parts of this
judgment, been aware at all material times, of the statutory requirements
and deviations which were repeatedly pointed out by the authorities
concerned as a safety hazard for the patrons of the cinema theatre. The
staff employed by the occupiers had no role to play in these deviations or
their removal. There is nothing on record to suggest that the occupiers
had issued instructions to the staff to have the deviations and breaches
removed and/or corrected, or that those instructions were not complied with
by the latter resulting in the fire incident that claimed human lives.
Unlike in Hazeldine’s case (supra), the occupiers had not done all that
could and ought to have been done by them to avert any tragedy in
connection with the use of an unsafe premises frequented by the public for
entertainment.

158. Equally untenable is the argument that since the gatekeeper of the
balcony has been found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, the occupiers
must be held to be innocent. The argument is an attempt to over-simplify
the legal position ignoring the factual matrix in which the prosecution was
launched and the appellants found guilty. If the appellants have indeed
committed gross negligence resulting in the death of a large number of
innocents, they cannot argue that just because one of those found to be
equally rash or negligent had been convicted for the very same offence they
must be held to be not at fault.

159. Mr. Jethmalani next argued that the charges framed against the
accused-appellants, Sushil and Gopal Ansal were defective inasmuch as the
same did not specify the days or period when the offence took place nor
even indicate the statutory provisions, rules and regulations allegedly
violated by the appellants or accuse the appellants of gross negligence
which alone could constitute an offence under Section 304A IPC. These
defects, contended the learned counsel, had caused prejudice to the
appellants in their defence and ought to vitiate the trial and result in
their acquittal. A similar contention, it appears, was urged by the
appellants even before the High Court who has referred to the charges
framed against the appellants at some length and discussed the law on the
point by reference to Sections 211, 215 and Section 464 of the Cr.P.C. to
hold that the charges were reasonably clear and that no prejudice in any
case had been caused to the appellants to warrant interference with the
trial or the conviction of the appellants on that ground. Reliance in
support was placed by the High Court upon the decision of this Court in
Willie (William) Slaney v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1956 SC 116) and
several later decisions that have reiterated the legal position on the
subject. There is in our opinion no error in the view taken by the High
Court in this regard. Section 464 of the Cr.P.C. completely answers the
contention urged on behalf of the appellants. It in no uncertain terms
provides that an error, omission or irregularity in the charge including
any misjoinder of charges shall not invalidate any sentence or order passed
by a Court of competent jurisdiction unless in the opinion of a Court of
appeal, confirmation or revision a failure of justice has in fact been
occasioned thereby. The language employed in Section 464 is so plain that
the same does not require any elaboration as to the approach to be adopted
by the Court. Even so the pronouncements of this Court not only in Slaney’s
case (supra) but in a long line of subsequent decisions place the matter
beyond the pale of any further deliberation on the subject. See K.C.
Mathew v. State of Travancore-Cochin AIR 1956 SC 241, Gurbachan Singh v.
State of Punjab AIR 1957 SC 823, Eirichh Bhuian v. State of Bihar AIR 1963
SC 1120, State of Maharashtra v. Ramdas Shrinivas Nayak AIR 1982 SC 1249,
Lallan Rai v. State of Bihar (2003) 1 SCC 268 and State (NCT of Delhi) v.
Navjot Sandhu (2005) 11 SCC 600.

160. In Slaney’s case (supra) Vivian Bose, J. speaking for the Court
observed:

“5…What it narrows down to is this. Is the charge to be
regarded as a ritualistic formula so sacred and fundamental that
a total absence of one, or any departure in it from the strict
and technical requirements of the Code, is so vital as to cut at
the root of the trial and vitiate it from the start, or is it
one of many regulations designed to ensure a fair and proper
trial so that substantial, as opposed to purely technical,
compliance with the spirit and requirements of the Code in this
behalf is enough to cure departures from the strict letter of
the law ?

6. Before we proceed to set out our answer and examine the
provisions of the Code, we will pause to observe that the Code
is a code of procedure and, like all procedural laws, is
designed to further the ends of justice and not to frustrate
them by the introduction of endless technicalities. The object
of the Code is to ensure that an accused person gets a full and
fair trial along certain well-established and well-understood
lines that accord with our notions of natural justice. If he
does, if he is tried by a competent court, if he is told and
clearly understands the nature of the offence for which he is
being tried, if the case against him is fully and fairly
explained to him and he is afforded a full and fair opportunity
of defending himself, then, provided there is substantial
compliance with the outward forms of the law, mere mistakes in
procedure, mere inconsequential errors and omissions in the
trial are regarded as venal by the Code and the trial is not
vitiated unless the accused can show substantial prejudice.
That, broadly speaking, is the basic principle on which the Code
is based…”
161. To the same effect are the subsequent decisions of this Court to
which we have referred to above. Applying the test laid down in the said
cases we have no hesitation in holding that there was nothing fundamentally
wrong with the charges framed against the appellants nor have the
appellants been able to demonstrate that they suffered any prejudice on
account of the alleged defects. The High Court has in our opinion taken a
correct view on the question urged before which does not call for any
interference.

162. It was also contended by Mr. Jethmalani that all such incriminating
circumstances as have been used against the appellants were not put to the
accused. The High Court has while dealing with a similar contention urged
before it carefully examined the case of each appellant and found no merit
in them. That apart we have been taken through the statements made by the
accused under Section 313 Cr.P.C. and find that the same have
comprehensively put the circumstances appearing against the appellants to
them and thereby given them an opportunity to explain the same. Besides,
so long as there is no prejudice demonstrated by the appellants on account
of any deficiency in the statements, there is no question of this Court
interfering with the concurrent judgments and orders of the Courts below.

163. We may at this stage simply refer to the decision of this Court in
Jai Dev v. State of Punjab AIR 1963 SC 612, where P.B. Gajendragadkar, J.
(as His Lordship then was) speaking for a three-Judge Bench explained the
purpose underlying the statement under Section 342 (now Section 313
Cr.P.C.) in the following words:

“The ultimate test in determining whether or not the accused has
been fairly examined under Section 342 would be to enquire
whether, having regard to all the questions put to him, he did
get an opportunity to say what he wanted to say in respect of
prosecution case against him. If it appears that the
examination of the accused person was defective and thereby a
prejudice has been caused to him, that would no doubt be a
serious infirmity.”
164. We may also refer to the decision of this Court in Shivaji Sahabrao
Bobade v. State of Maharashtra (1973) 2 SCC 793, where this Court declared
that an omission in the statement under Section 313 does not ipso facto
vitiate the proceedings and that prejudice occasioned by such defect must
be established by the accused. The following passage is in this regard
apposite:

“It is trite law, nevertheless fundamental, that the prisoner’s
attention should be drawn to every inculpatory material so as to
enable him to explain it. This is the basic fairness of a
criminal trial and failures in this area may gravely imperil the
validity of the trial itself, if consequential miscarriage of
justice has flowed. However, where such an omission has
occurred it does not ipso facto vitiate the proceedings and
prejudice occasioned by such defect must be established by the
accused. In the event of evidentiary material not being put to
the accused, the court must ordinarily eschew such material from
consideration. It is also open to the appellate court to call
upon the counsel for the accused to show what explanation the
accused has as regards the circumstances established against him
but not put to him and if the accused is unable to offer the
appellate court any plausible or reasonable explanation of such
circumstances, the Court may assume that no acceptable answer
exists and that even if the accused had been questioned at the
proper time in the trial court he would not have been able to
furnish any good ground to get out of the circumstances on which
the trial court had relied for its conviction. In such a case,
the Court proceeds on the footing that though a grave
irregularity has occurred as regards compliance with Section 342
Cr.P.C. the omission has not been shown to have been caused
prejudice to the accused.”
165. To the same effect is the decision of this Court in State (Delhi
Admn.) v. Dharampal (2001) 10 SCC 372 and Bakhshish Singh v. State of
Punjab AIR 1967 SC 752.

166. Suffice it to say that the circumstances appearing against the accused
persons have been elaborately put to them under Section 313 Cr.P.C. The
contention that the appellants suffered any prejudice on account of a given
circumstance not having put to them has, in our opinion, no merit and is
accordingly rejected.

166. In the light of the above discussion, we see no reason to interfere
with the judgments and orders of the Courts below in so far as the same
have convicted appellant-Ansal brothers for offences under Sections 304A,
337, 338 read with Section 36 IPC and Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act,
1952.

167. As regards the conviction of Divisional Fire Officer, H. S. Panwar
(A15) assailed in Criminal Appeal No.599/2010, the trial Court has on a
reappraisal of the evidence adduced at the trial found that the said
accused had acted in a grossly rash and negligent manner in issuing No
Objection Certificates without carrying out a proper inspection of the
cinema hall from the fire safety angle, resulting in issue of temporary
permits in favour of the theatre which directly resulted in the death of 59
persons in the incident in question. The trial Court observed:

“Accused H.S. Panwar acted with gross negligence by recommending
‘No Objection certificate’ without fulfilling requirements of
law and without carrying out inspection of the cinema hall
building from fire safety point of view, resulting in the
issuance of temporary permits and on the basis of the same
exhibition of films, which action resulted into the death of the
patrons inside the cinema hall on the day of the incident. The
accused committed breach of duty by omitting to point out the
fire hazards and deficiencies in fire fighting measures in the
cinema building, which act amounts to culpable negligence on his
part. The act of accused can also be described as ‘culpable
rashness’ since being an officer from the office of Chief Fire
Officer, he was conscious that the intended consequences would
surely ensure. The accused by, omitting to do his lawful duties
committed gross negligence and rashness which was the direct and
proximate cause of the death of 59 persons. Accordingly, the
accused H.S. Panwar is held guilty for the offence under Section
304A IPC read with section 36 IPC. The accused is also held
guilty for the injury to the patrons in the cinema hall for the
offence under section 337 and 338 IPC.”

(emphasis supplied)
168. The above finding was affirmed by the High Court in the following
words with a reduction in his sentence:

“… Concerning accused H.S. Panwar, the negligent and careless
inspection carried out by him has been held to be a significant
and direct cause of the accident, which took away lives of
innocent people, and grievously injured several others. His
vigil could have prevented the fire clearance certificate. If
he had displayed the same zeal that he did in November, 1996,
when the inspection report did not yield a no objection? (sic)
There would have been a greater scrutiny of the fire safety
norms. Instead, he certified that fire safety norms had been
complied with, whereas in actuality they were not. No doubt, he
has served the Delhi Fire Service for a long time; according to
the trial court judgment, he was 68 years when the impugned
judgment was pronounced. He is also a recipient of
commendations. On a conspectus of all these circumstances, the
court is of the opinion that ends of justice would be served if
the sentence is reduced to rigorous imprisonment for one year
and Rs.5000/- under section 304-A. The default sentence in his
case is also modified to simple imprisonment for two months.
The conviction by the trial court is therefore maintained and to
the above extent….”
169. Mr. Mehrotra, learned counsel for the appellant H.S. Panwar made a
two-fold submission in support of his appeal. Firstly he argued that
according to the standard practice prevalent in the Fire Department the
appellant H.S. Panwar then Divisional Fire Officer was required to give a
report in terms of the proforma prescribed for the purpose. This was
according to the learned counsel evident from the deposition of Shri G.D.
Verma (PW 37) the then Chief Fire Officer. He urged that even earlier
inspections had been made on the basis of the very same proforma, which was
correctly filled up by the appellant furnishing the requisite information
demanded in the proforma.

170. Secondly it was contended by Mr. Mehrotra that the Victims’
Association had claimed compensation from the management of the theatre as
well as MCD Delhi Fire Service, in which case the High Court had exonerated
Delhi Fire Service. That finding had attained finality as the same was not
challenged by the Association. This, argued the learned counsel, implied
that the Fire Service or its officers were not at fault for the occurrence
in question, a circumstance which could and ought to be kept in view.

171. There is, in our opinion, no merit in either one of the submissions
made by Mr. Mehrotra. Clearance by the Fire Department was, it is common
ground, an essential pre-requisite for the grant of a license, its renewal
or the issue of a temporary permit for exhibition of the films in any
cinema hall. This clearance could be granted only if the officers concerned
were fully satisfied after an inspection of the cinema premises that the
same was indeed safe for use as a place for exhibition of cinematographs.
Anyone discharging that important function had to be extremely vigilant as,
any neglect on his part could allow an unsafe premises being used resulting
in serious consequences as in the present case. Far from being vigilant
and careful about the inspection, H.S. Panwar grossly neglected the duty
cast upon him, resulting in the issue of temporary permits, which
contributed to the causa causans of the incident. It is in the
circumstances no defence for the appellant-H.S. Panwar to plead that he was
asked to report only according to the proforma furnished to him. As a
senior and experienced officer in the Fire Service Department, he ought to
have known the purpose of his inspection and the care he was required to
take in the interest of the safety of hundreds, if not thousands of cine-
goers who throng to such public places for entertainment. In as much as he
failed to do so, and issued a certificate which compromised the safety
requirements and endangered human lives resulting directly in the loss of a
large number of them, he has been rightly found guilty.

172. So also the second limb of Mr. Mehrotra’s submission is in our
opinion without any substance. The question whether the appellant H.S.
Panwar was grossly negligent resulting in the loss of valuable human lives
has to be determined on the basis of the evidence on record in the present
case and not on the basis of findings which the High Court may have held in
a summary proceedings for payment of compensation to the victims and their
families recorded under Article 226 of the constitution. The evidence in
the case at hand has been appraised by the two Courts below and found to
establish the charge of negligence against the appellant. There is, in our
opinion, no compelling reason for us to take a different view in the matter
especially when we do not see any miscarriage of justice or perversity in
the reasoning adopted by the trial Court and the High Court.

173. It brings us to Criminal Appeals No.617-627 of 2010 and 604 of 2010
filed by B.M. Satija (A-9) and Bir Singh (A-11) respectively. They were
together with A.K. Gera (A-10) charged with commission of offences
punishable under Sections 304 read with Section 36 of the IPC. The trial
Court, as already noticed in the earlier part of this judgment, held all
the three accused persons mentioned above guilty of the offence with which
they were charged and sentenced them to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a
period of seven years besides a fine of Rs.5000/- and six months
imprisonment in default. In criminal appeals filed by the three accused
persons, the High Court has converted the conviction from Section 304 Part
II to Sections 304A, 337 and 338 read with Section 36 of the IPC in so far
as B.M. Satija (A-9) and Bir Singh (A-11) are concerned, while acquitting
A.K. Gera (A-10) of the charge. The High Court has further reduced the
sentence awarded to the appellants B.M. Satija (A-9) and Bir Singh (A-11)
from seven years rigorous imprisonment to two years and a fine of Rs.2000/-
each for the offence under Section 304-A, rigorous imprisonment for six
months with fine of Rs.500/- for the offence under Section 337, IPC and
rigorous imprisonment for one year, with fine of Rs.1000/- for the offence
under Section 338, IPC. While appellants B.M. Satija (A-9) and Bir Singh
(A-11) have assailed their conviction and sentence before us, the CBI has
challenged the acquittal of A.K. Gera (A-10) in Criminal Appeals No.605-616
of 2010.

174. Appearing for appellant-B.M. Satija, Mr. V.V. Giri, learned senior
counsel argued that the appellant was not one of those deputed to attend to
the complaint about the malfunctioning of the DVB transformer on the
morning of 13th June, 1997. He submitted that evidence adduced by the
prosecution regarding his presence and association with the process of
rectification was sketchy and did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt his
presence on the spot. He made an attempt to persuade us to reverse the
concurrent findings of fact recorded by two Courts below in this regard and
drew our attention to the depositions of P.C. Bhardwaj (PW-40), V.K Gupta
(PW-43) and Bhagwandeen (PW-44) as also the documents marked Ex. PW-40/C,
40/A and 40/P. He urged that the CFSL report recording the signatures sent
for examination did not lend any support to the prosecution case.

175. Mr. Gopal Singh, Senior Counsel appearing for A.K. Gera (A-9)
respondent in CBI’s Criminal Appeal No.605-616 of 2010 contended that the
order passed by the High Court was based on appreciation of the evidence
adduced by the trial Court and that interference with any such order of
acquittal is rare unless it is found to be patently perverse. He urged
that his client A.K. Gera (A-9) was not posted in the concerned zone in
which the DVB transformer was installed. He had nothing to do with this
act. The trial Court and the High Court have both concurrently held that
the repairs of the DVB transformer were carried out by Bir Singh (A-11) and
B.M. Satija A(-9). That finding is without any perversity. The High Court
has relying upon the depositions of P.C. Bhardwaj (PW-40) and Bhagwandeen
(PW-44) observed:

“14.12 So far as role of the accused B.M. Satija and Bir
Singh are concerned, PW-40 P.C. Bhardwaj deposed having informed
B.M. Satija about the morning complaint. PW-44 deposed that all
3, i.e., Gera, Satija and Bir Singh were instrumental in
repairing of the DVB transformer at Uphaar in the morning of
13.6.1997. Expert evidence in the form of PW-35/A; Ex.PW36/A
all established that the cause of fire was improper crimping of
the cable end with the socket which ultimately detached at the
crucial time, resulted in intense sparking, settling down of the
cable on the transformer which resulted in a slit; transformer
oil gushed out, caught fire and spread to the parking area
resulting in the improperly parked vehicles catching fire.

14.13 xxxxx

14.14 The depositions of other witnesses assume importance. PW-
40 clearly mentioned that he had discussed the complaint with
Satija and chalked out the programme. PW/44 clearly deposed
having accompanied Satija, Bir Singh and Gera to the relevant
site at Uphar and witnessing the repairs with the aid of dye and
hammer. At one place, he mentioned that Bir Singh carried out
the repair under the supervision of both the officers, in
another place of his deposition, he mentioned that Bir Singh’s
work was supervised by Satija.”
176. The above findings do not in our view suffer from any perversity or
any miscarriage of justice or call for interference under appeal in this
connection under Article 136 of the Constitution of India. Even in regard
to A.K. Gera (A-9), the High Court has held that he was present on the spot
but in the absence of any further evidence to prove the role played by him,
the High Court considered it unsafe to convict him for imprisonment:

“On an overall conspectus of the above facts, this Court is of
opinion that though Gera’s presence at site stands established,
in the absence of fuller evidence about the role played by him,
there can be no presumption that he played any part in the
defective repairs, carried out without the aid of the crimping
machine on the Uphaar DVB transformer. Mere presence when that
cannot lead to presumption of involvement of an actor who is not
expected to play any role and is insufficient, in the opinion of
the Court, to saddle criminal liability of the kind envisioned
under Section 304-A. To establish that Gera had a duty to care
to ensure that notwithstanding the defective crimping carried
out by the employees competent to do so and that he had an
overriding responsibility of objecting to the work done by them,
without proving whether he was there during the entire operation
and if so how the extent of his involvement, the conviction for
causing death due to criminal negligence cannot be arrived at.
Although, there are circumstances which point to Gera’s
presence, they may even amount to suspicion of the role played
by him, yet such evidence proved are insufficient to prove the
case against him beyond reasonable doubt. In the circumstances,
neither can be he convicted under Section 304 Part-II, nor under
Section 304-A read with 337/338 and 36 IPC.”
177. In fairness to Mr. Salve, learned counsel appearing for the CBI, we
must mention that he did not seriously assail the above reasoning given by
the High Court. At any rate, the view taken by the High Court is a
possible view. We see no compelling reason to interfere with that view in
the facts and circumstances of the case. Having said that, the question
remains whether the High Court was justified in convicting appellants Bir
Singh (A-11) and B.M. Satija (A-9) for the offence of causing death by
rashness and gross negligence, punishable under sections 304A of the IPC.

178. In our view, the causa causans for the death of 59 persons was their
inability to quickly exit from the balcony area for reasons we have already
indicated. That being so, even when the repairs carried out by Bir Singh (A-
11) and B.M. Satija (A-9) may have been found to be unsatisfactory for the
reasons given by the trial Court and the High Court, which we have
affirmed, the fire resulting from such poor repair was no more than causa
sine qua non for the deaths and, therefore, did not constitute an offence
punishable under Section 304A of the IPC. Besides, the negligence of the
occupiers of the cinema having intervened between the negligence of these
two officials of the DVB and the deaths that occurred in the incident, the
causal connection between the deaths and act of shabby repair of the
installation of the DVB transformer is not established directly.

179. The conviction of these two appellants under Section 304A cannot,
therefore, be sustained. That would, however, not affect their conviction
under Sections 337 and 338 read with Section 36 of the IPC which would
remain unaffected and is hereby affirmed.

180. Question No.1 is accordingly answered on the above lines.

Re: Question No.II:

181. The charge framed against N.S. Chopra (A-6) and other Managers of
Uphaar Cinema was one for commission of the offence punishable under
Section 304 Part II read with Section 36 of the IPC. The allegation made
against the Managers was that even when they were present on the premises
at the time of the incident, they had failed to either warn the patrons or
facilitate their escape. They instead fled the scene despite the knowledge
that death was likely to be caused by their acts of omission and
commission. The Trial Court had found the charge proved and convicted and
sentenced N.S. Chopra to undergo imprisonment for a period of seven years
besides a fine of Rs.5,000/- and imprisonment for six months in default of
payment. The High Court reversed that view qua N.S. Chopra and also R.K.
Sharma (A-5) (since deceased). The High Court acquitted them of the charges
for reasons which it summed up in the following words:

“10.11 Section 304, first part requires proof of intention to
cause death or such bodily harm as would cause death; the second
part requires proof that knowledge existed that such injury
would result in death, or grievous injury likely to result in
death. The crucial aspect in both cases, is the state of mind,
i.e “intention” or “knowledge” of the consequence. Proof of such
intention or knowledge has to be necessarily, of a high order;
all other hypotheses of innocence of the accused, have to be
ruled out. The prosecution here, glaringly has not proved when
these two accused fled the cinema hall; there is no eyewitness
testifying to their having been in the balcony when the smoke
entered the hall, and having left it, which could have proved
knowledge of the likely deaths and grievous bodily injuries.
Thus, this court is of the opinion that proof of these
appellants, i.e N.S. Chopra and R.K. Sharma, having committed
the offence under Section 304, is not forthcoming. Their
conviction under that provision cannot, therefore, be
sustained.”

(emphasis supplied)
182. The High Court also examined whether N.S. Chopra and R.K. Sharma
could be convicted under Section 304A IPC, and answered that question in
the negative. The High Court was of the view that the prosecution had
failed to establish that N.S. Chopra was present on the scene and also that
the documentary evidence adduced at the trial proved that he had not
reported for duty on the fateful day. The High Court observed:

“10.13 As far as R. K. Sharma is concerned, the evidence
establishes that he had reported for duty… N.S. Chopra, on the
other hand, according to the documentary evidence (Ex. PW-108/DB-
1, found in Ex.PW97/C) had not reported for duty. In his
statement under Section 313, he mentioned having reached the
cinema hall at 5-30 PM, and not being allowed inside, since the
fire was raging in the building.
xx xx xx

10.17 The totality of the above circumstances no doubt points to
complete managerial and supervisory failure in the cinema. Such
inaction is certainly culpable, and points to grave lapses. This
undoubtedly was an important and significant part of the
causation chain. Yet, to convict the accused R.K. Sharma and
N.C. Chopra, there should be more convincing proof of
involvement. At best, there is evidence of suspicion of their
involvement. Yet, no attempt to prove that they were present,
and did not take any effective measures to evacuate the patrons,
which they were bound to do, in the normal course of their duty,
has been made. Mere proof that these accused were Assistant
Manager, and Manager, as on the date of the accident, and that
one of them had reported earlier, during the day, is not
adequate to prove that they caused death by criminally
negligent, or rash act. There was failure on the part of the
trial court to notice that the two vital aspects, i.e duty and
breach of that duty of such scale, as to amount to an offence.
Their appeals are entitled to succeed. These appellants have to,
therefore, be acquitted of the charges. Their conviction is
consequently set aside.”
(emphasis supplied)
183. In fairness to Mr. Salve and Mr. Tulsi, we must say that no serious
attempt was made by them to demolish the reasoning adopted by the High
Court in coming to its conclusion. That apart, the view taken by the High
Court on a fair appreciation of the evidence, both oral and documentary,
does not even otherwise call for any interference by us as the same is a
reasonably possible view.

184. Coming then to the acquittal of S.S. Sharma (A-13) and N.D. Tiwari (A-
14), Administrative Officers, MCD, the charges framed against the said two
accused persons were for offences punishable under Section 304A, 337 and
338 read with Section 36 IPC. The allegation levelled against them was that
they negligently issued No Objection certificates to Uphaar Cinema in the
years 1995-96 and 1996-97 without so much as conducting inspections of the
premises, and thereby committed a breach of the Cinematograph Act and the
Rules made thereunder. The Trial Court found that charge established and
accordingly convicted and sentenced both the accused persons to undergo
imprisonment for a period of two years and a fine of Rs.5,000/- for the
offence punishable under Section 304A, six months for the offence
punishable under Section 337 and two years under Section 338 of the Code.
The High Court has in appeal reversed the conviction and the sentences
awarded to the accused persons on the reasoning that it summed up in the
following words:

“13.6 The prosecution, in order to succeed in its charge of
accused Mr. S.S. Sharma and Mr. N.D. Tiwari having acted with
criminal negligence and caused death and serious injury, should
have first established the duty of care either through some
enacted law like DCR, 1953 or DCR, 1981 or a general duty
discernable in their normal course of official functions. In
addition, the prosecution should have established breach of such
duty would have resulted in a foreseeable damage and death to or
in grievous injury to several persons. Unlike in the case of the
Fire Department, the Licensing Department or the Electrical
Inspectorate, all of whom are named authorities empowered to
inspect the premises, there is no role assigned to
Administrative Officers of the MCD. The rationale for obtaining
‘no objections’ from these officers has been left unexplained.
The prosecution has failed to establish the necessity for such
No Objection Certificate and how without such document, by the
Administrative Officers of MCD, the licensing authority, DCP
(Licensing) would not have issued the temporary permit. Ex.
22/A, the letter by the licensing department is in fact
addressed to the Building department, MCD.
xx xx xx

13.8 The materials on record nowhere disclose how, even if it
were assumed that Mr. S.S. Sharma and Mr. N.D. Tiwari breached
their duties of care, the breach was of such magnitude as would
have inevitably led to death or grievous injury to several
persons and that such consequence was reasonably foreseeable by
them when they issued No Objection Certificates. No doubt, the
issuance of No Objection Certificates and handing them over to
the beneficiary directly was a careless, even callous act. It
was also used to be placed on the record as a prelude to the
issuance of the permits. But in the absence of clearly
discernable duty of care and the magnitude of foreseeable damage
by these accused, this Court cannot affirm the findings of the
Trial Court and their conviction.
13.9 The appeals of Mr. S.S. Sharma and Mr. N.D. Tiwari are,
therefore, entitled to succeed.”

(emphasis supplied)
185. There was no serious argument advanced by either Mr. Salve, appearing
for the CBI or Mr. Tulsi for assailing the correctness of the view taken by
the High Court in appeal and rightly so because the High Court has, in our
opinion, taken a fairly reasonable view which is in tune with the evidence
on record. There is, in our opinion, no room for our interference even with
this part of the order passed by the High Court by which it acquitted S.S.
Sharma and N.D. Tiwari, Administrative Officers of the MCD. Our answer to
Question No.II is in the affirmative.

Re: Question No.III:

186. The Trial Court had framed charges against the accused persons by an
order dated 9th April, 2001 by which Sushil and Gopal Ansal were charged
with commission of offence punishable under Section 304A, 337 and 338 read
with Section 36 IPC. Against that order framing charges the Association of
Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) filed Criminal Revision No.270 of 2001
before the Delhi High Court to contend that a charge under Section 304 IPC
also ought to have been framed against the said two accused persons. The
case of the association was that there was overwhelming evidence on record
to establish the charge. That revision eventually failed and was dismissed
by the High Court by its order dated 11th September, 2001 (Sushil Ansal v.
State Through CBI etc. etc. 1995 (2002) DLT 623). Revision petitions filed
by other accused persons against the order of framing charges were also
dismissed by the High Court by the very same order. Dealing with the
contention urged on behalf of the AVUT the High Court observed:

“34. The plea of Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy to
frame charges under Section 304 IPC against accused Sh. Sushil
Ansal and Sh. Gopal Ansal, in addition to the charges already
framed against them, cannot be sustained in as much as prima
facie a case of negligence only is made out against them. The
allegations against them gross negligence, wanton carelessness
and callous indifference in regard to the up-keep and
maintenance of the cinema. Had rapid dispersal facilities been
available to the patrons in the balcony, no death or injury
could have taken place and as such, this Court is of the
considered view that there are no good and sufficient grounds
for slapping a charge under Section 304 IPC against these two
accused.”

187. What is significant is that AVUT did not bring up the matter to this
Court against the above order passed by the High Court. On the contrary,
Sushil Ansal appears to have filed a special leave petition in this Court
challenging the dismissal of the revision petition by the High Court which
was subsequently dismissed as withdrawn by this Court by order dated 12th
April, 2002. The result was that the trial commenced against the Ansal
brothers on the basis of the charges framed by the Trial Court.

188. The AVUT during the course of the trial made another attempt to have
the charge under Section 304 IPC framed against the Ansal brothers by
moving an application before the Trial Court to that effect. The Trial
Court, however, disposed of that application stating that if it found
sufficient evidence against the Ansal brothers justifying a charge under
Section 304 IPC or any other person for that matter, it would take action
suo moto for framing such a charge. Final judgment of the Trial Court was
delivered on 20th November, 2007 in which it convicted Ansal brothers of
the offence under Section 304A of the IPC, which clearly meant that the
Trial Court had not found any reason to frame any additional charge against
them under Section 304 IPC.

189. Aggrieved by the omission of the Trial Court to frame a charge under
Section 304 IPC, AVUT filed a revision petition before the High Court which
too was dismissed by the High Court with the observation that their earlier
revision petition framing charges under Sections 304, 337 and 338 read with
Section 36 having been dismissed by the High Court, the said order had
become final, especially when the revisionist AVUT did not carry the matter
further to this Court. The High Court also held that the appeal against the
conviction of the Ansal brothers having been disposed of, there was no
question of framing any charge for a graver offence in the absence of any
evidence unequivocally establishing that such a charge was made out and yet
had not been framed. The High Court held that procedure for misjoinder of
charges under Section 216 applied during the stage of trial, whereas AVUT
was asking for a remand of the matter for a retrial on the fresh charge
under Section 304 Part II, which was not permissible under the scheme of
the Code. The High Court also rejected the contention that Ansal brothers
could be convicted for an offence graver than what they were charged with.

190. In the appeal filed by AVUT against the order passed by the High
Court in the above revision petition, they have agitated the very same
issue before us. Appearing for the Victims Association, Mr. Tulsi argued
that the acts of omission and commission of Ansal brothers by which the
egress of the patrons was obstructed warranted a conviction not merely for
the offence punishable under Section 304A IPC but also for the offence
punishable under Section 304 Part II since according to the learned counsel
the said acts were committed with the knowledge that death was likely to
result thereby. Mr. Tulsi in particular contended that the act of
installing an eight-seater box that entirely blocked the right-side exit in
the balcony was itself sufficient for the Court to order a retrial of the
Ansal brothers, since they knew by such an act they were likely to cause
death of the patrons in the event of a fire incident. On that premise, he
contended that the matter should be remanded back to the Trial Court for
retrial for commission of the offence punishable under Section 304 Part II.
In support of the contention that the fact situation in the case at hand
established a case under Section 304 Part II, Mr. Tulsi placed reliance on
the decision of this Court in Alister Anthony Pereira v. State of
Maharashtra (2012) 2 SCC 648 where this Court was dealing with an
inebriated driver, driving under the influence of alcohol causing the death
of people on the footpath. He contended that this Court had in that fact
situation held that by driving recklessly under the influence of alcohol
the driver knew that he can thereby kill someone. Anyone causing death
must be deemed to have had the knowledge that his act of omission and
commission was likely to result in the loss of human lives.

191. Mr. Ram Jethmalani, learned counsel for Ansal brothers on the other
hand placed reliance upon the decision of this Court in Keshub Mahindra v.
State of M.P. (1996) 6 SCC 129 and argued that a case where a person in a
drunken state of mind drives a vehicle recklessly is completely
distinguishable from the case at hand and that the fact situations are not
comparable in the least. On the contrary in the case of Keshub Mahindra
(supra), this Court has clearly repelled the contention that the charge
under Section 304 Part II would be maintained against those handling the
plant from which the lethal MIC gas had leaked to cause what is known as
the infamous Bhopal Gas Tragedy in which thousands of human beings lost
their lives. If this Court did not find a case under Section 304 Part II
made out in a case where the tragedy had left thousands dead, the question
of the present unfortunate incident being treated as one under Section 304
Part II did not arise, contended Mr. Jethmalani.

192. In Alister Anthony Pereira’s case (supra), the accused was driving in
an inebriated condition when he ran over a number of labourers sleeping on
the pavement, killing seven of them. The Trial Court convicted the accused
under Sections 304A and 337 IPC but acquitted him under Section 304 Part II
and 338 IPC. The Bombay High Court set aside the acquittal and convicted
the accused for offences under Sections 304 Part II, 337 and 338 IPC. This
Court affirmed the said judgment of the High Court and while doing so
explained the distinction between the offence under Section 304A and that
punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC. This Court observed:

“47. Each case obviously has to be decided on its own facts. In
a case where negligence or rashness is the cause of death and
nothing more, Section 304A may be attracted but where the rash
or negligent act is preceded with the knowledge that such act is
likely to cause death, Section 304 Part II Indian Penal Code may
be attracted and if such a rash and negligent act is preceded by
real intention on the part of the wrong doer to cause death,
offence may be punishable under Section 302 Indian Penal Code.”
193. This Court went on to hold that the accused in the above case could
be said to have had the knowledge that his act of reckless driving in an
inebriated condition was likely to cause death. This Court observed:
“41. Rash or negligent driving on a public road with the
knowledge of the dangerous character and the likely effect of
the act and resulting in death may fall in the category of
culpable homicide not amounting to murder. A person, doing an
act of rash or negligent driving, if aware of a risk that a
particular consequence is likely to result and that result
occurs, may be held guilty not only of the act but also of the
result. As a matter of law – in view of the provisions of the
Indian Penal Code – the cases which fall within last clause of
Section 299 but not within clause ‘fourthly’ of Section 300 may
cover the cases of rash or negligent act done with the knowledge
of the likelihood of its dangerous consequences and may entail
punishment under Section 304 Part II Indian Penal Code.
Section 304A Indian Penal Code takes out of its ambit the cases
of death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act
amounting to culpable homicide of either description.
xx xx xx
78. We have also carefully considered the evidence let in by
prosecution – the substance of which has been referred to above
– and we find no justifiable ground to take a view different
from that of the High Court. We agree with the conclusions of
the High Court and have no hesitation in holding that the
evidence and materials on record prove beyond reasonable doubt
that the Appellant can be attributed with knowledge that his act
of driving the vehicle at a high speed in the rash or negligent
manner was dangerous enough and he knew that one result would
very likely be that people who were asleep on the pavement may
be hit, should the vehicle go out of control.”
(emphasis supplied)
194. In State through PS Lodhi Colony, New Delhi v. Sanjeev Nanda (2012) 8
SCC 450, six bystanders were killed when the accused, driving recklessly
under the influence of alcohol ran them over. The accused was also shown to
have gotten out of the vehicle after the incident, inspected the gruesome
damage and thereafter driven away. While the trial Court convicted the
accused under Section 304 Part II, IPC, the Delhi High Court altered the
conviction to one under Section 304A on the ground that knowledge of
causing death was not made out. This Court allowed the appeal against this
decision and held the offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder
to have been made out. The reasoning behind the Court’s conclusion that the
accused had the knowledge that death was likely to be caused was based on
the facts of the case and the presumption that was drawn in Alister Anthony
(supra) against drunken drivers in hit and run cases. K.S.P.
Radhakrishnan, J. speaking for this Court observed as follows:

“The principle mentioned by this Court in Alister Anthony
Pereira (supra) indicates that the person must be presumed to
have had the knowledge that, his act of driving the vehicle
without a licence in a high speed after consuming liquor beyond
the permissible limit, is likely or sufficient in the ordinary
course of nature to cause death of the pedestrians on the road.
In our view, Alister Anthony Pareira (supra) judgment calls for
no reconsideration. Assuming that Shri Ram Jethmalani is right
in contending that while he was driving the vehicle in a drunken
state, he had no intention or knowledge that his action was
likely to cause death of six human beings, in our view, at
least, immediately after having hit so many human beings and the
bodies scattered around, he had the knowledge that his action
was likely to cause death of so many human beings, lying on the
road unattended. To say, still he had no knowledge about his
action is too childish which no reasonable man can accept as
worthy of consideration. So far as this case is concerned, it
has been brought out in evidence that the accused was in an
inebriated state, after consuming excessive alcohol, he was
driving the vehicle without licence, in a rash and negligent
manner in a high speed which resulted in the death of six
persons. The accused had sufficient knowledge that his action
was likely to cause death and such an action would, in the facts
and circumstances of this case fall under Section 304(II) of the
Indian Penal Code and the trial court has rightly held so and
the High Court has committed an error in converting the offence
to Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code.”

195. What emerges from the two cases referred to above is that:

a. Each case must be decided on its own facts to determine whether such
knowledge did in fact precede the rash/negligent act.

b. What converts a case apparently falling under Section 304A into one
under Section 304 Part II is the knowledge that the act is
likely to cause death”.

c. Where the act which causes death is the act of driving a vehicle
in a rash and reckless manner and in an inebriated state after
consuming liquor, the accused may be attributed the knowledge that
such act was likely to cause death of others using the road.

196. The decision in Alister Anthony Pereira’s case (supra) or that
delivered in Sanjeev Nanda’s case (supra) does not lay down any specific
test for determining whether the accused had the knowledge that his act was
likely to cause death. The decisions simply accept the proposition that
drunken driving in an inebriated state, under the influence of alcohol
would give rise to an inference that the person so driving had the
knowledge that his act was likely to cause death. The fact situation in
the case at hand is not comparable to a case of drunken driving in an
inebriated state. The case at hand is more akin on facts to Keshub
Mahindra’s case (supra) where this Court was dealing with the question
whether a case under Section 304 part II was made out against the
management of Union Carbide India Ltd., whose negligence had resulted in
highly toxic MIC gas escaping from the plant at Bhopal. The trial Court in
that case had framed a charge against the management of the company for
commission of an offence under Section 304 Part II, IPC, which was upheld
by the High Court in revision. This Court, however, set aside the order
framing the charge under Section 304 Part II and directed that charges be
framed under Section 304A, IPC instead. This Court observed:

“20…The entire material which the prosecution relied upon before
the Trail Court for framing the charge and to which we have made
a detailed reference earlier, in our view, cannot support such a
charge unless it indicates prima facie that on that fateful
night when the plant was run at Bhopal it was run by the
concerned accused with the knowledge that such running of the
plant was likely to cause deaths of human beings. It cannot be
disputed that mere act of running a plant as per the permission
granted by the authorities would not be a criminal act. Even
assuming that it was a defective plant and it was dealing with a
very toxic and hazardous substance like MIC the mere act of
storing such a material by the accused in Tank No. 610 could not
even prima facie suggest that the concerned accused thereby had
knowledge that they were likely to cause death of human beings.
In fairness to the prosecution it was not suggested and could
not be suggested that the accused had an intention to kill any
human being while operating the plant. Similarly on the
aforesaid material placed on record it could not be even prima
facie suggested by the prosecution that any of the accused had a
knowledge that by operating the plant on that fateful night
whereat such dangerous and highly volatile substance like MIC
was stored they had the knowledge that by this very act itself
they were likely to cause death of any human being. Consequently
in our view taking entire material as aforesaid on its face
value and assuming it to represent the correct factual position
in connection with the operation of the plant at Bhopal on that
fateful night it could not be said that the said material even
prima facie called for framing of a charge against the concerned
accused under Section 304 Part II, IPC on the specious plea that
the said act of the accused amounted to culpable homicide only
because the operation of the plant on that night ultimately
resulted in deaths of a number of human beings and cattle…”

(emphasis supplied)
197. At the same time, the Court held that there was enough evidence to
prima facie establish that the accused management had committed an offence
under Section 304A and observed that the evidence assembled by the
prosecution suggested that structural and operational defects in the
working of the plant was the direct and proximate cause of death:

“21… It cannot be disputed that because of the operation of the
defective plant at Bhopal on that fateful night a highly
dangerous and volatile substance like MIC got converted into
poisonous gas which snuffed off the lives of thousands of human
beings and maimed other thousands and killed number of animals
and that all happened, as seen at least prima facie by the
material led by the prosecution on record, because of rash and
negligent act on the part of the accused who were in-charge of
the plant at Bhopal. Even though, therefore, these accused
cannot be charged for offences under Section 304 Part II the
material led against them by the prosecution at least prima
facie showed that the accused were guilty of rash or negligent
acts not amounting to culpable homicide and by that act caused
death of large number of persons… In this connection we must
observe that the material led by the prosecution to which we
have made a detailed reference earlier prima facie shows that
there were not only structural defects but even operational
defects in the working of the plant on that fateful night which
resulted into this grim tragedy. Consequently a prima facie case
is made out for framing charges under Section 304A against the
concerned accused…”
198. It is noteworthy that an attempt was made by the CBI and State of
Madhya Pradesh to have the above order recalled and set aside by way of a
curative petition which failed with the dismissal of the petition by a five-
Judge Bench of this Court (See C.B.I. and Ors. etc. v. Keshub Mahindra etc.
(2011) 6 SCC 216).

199. We may at this stage refer to Section 464 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure which deals with the effect of the omission to frame or absence
of, or error in the framing of charge and inter-alia provides that no
finding, sentence or order by a Court of competent jurisdiction shall be
deemed invalid merely on the ground that no charge was framed or on the
ground of any error, omission or irregularity in the charge including any
misjoinder of charges, unless, in the opinion of the Court of appeal,
confirmation or revision, a failure of justice has in fact been occasioned
thereby. It is only if the Court of appeal, confirmation or revision is of
opinion that a failure of justice has in fact been occasioned that it may
in the case of an omission to frame a charge, order that a charge be framed
and that the trial be recommenced from the point immediately after the
framing of the charge. The omission to frame a charge is, therefore, by
itself not enough for the Court of appeal, confirmation or revision to
direct the framing of the charge. What is essential for doing so is that
the Court of appeal in revision or confirmation must record a finding to
the effect that failure of justice has in fact been occasioned on account
of the non-framing of charge.

200. The expression ‘failure of justice’ is not defined, no matter the
expression is very often used in the realm of both civil and criminal
jurisprudence. In Shamnsaheb M. Multtani v. State of Karnataka (2001) 2 SCC
577 this Court while dealing with that expression sounded a note of caution
and described the expression as an etymological chameleon. That simile was
borrowed from Lord Diplock’s opinion in Town Investments Ltd. v. Department
of the Environment 1977 (1) All E.R. 813. This Court held that the criminal
court, particularly the superior court should make a close examination to
ascertain whether there was really a failure of justice or whether it is
only a camouflage.

201. Mr. Tulsi, learned counsel for the victims’ association was unable to
satisfactorily demonstrate any failure of justice not only because there
was no evidence strongly suggestive of the accused persons having had the
knowledge that their acts of omission and commission were likely to cause
death but also because failure of justice cannot be viewed in isolation and
independent of the prejudice that the accused persons may suffer on account
of inordinate delay in the completion of the trial or what may result from
an indefinite procrastination of the matter by a remand to the trial Court.
That speedy justice is a virtue recognised an integral and essential part
of the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution is
well settled by a long line of decisions of this Court including the three-
Judge Bench decision in Hussainara Khatoon and Ors. v. Home Secretary,
State of Bihar, Patna (1980) 1 SCC 81 reiterated in A.R. Antulay v. R.S.
Nayak (1992) 1 SCC 225. This Court in the latter case summed up the nature
of the prejudice caused to an accused by a protracted trial in the
following words:
“3. The concerns underlying the Right to speedy trial from the
point of view of the accused are:
a) The period of remand and pre-conviction detention should be
as short as possible. In other words, the accused should not
be subjected to unnecessary or unduly long incarceration
prior to his conviction;
b) The worry, anxiety, expense and disturbance to his vocation
and peace, resulting from an unduly prolonged investigation,
inquiry or trial should be minimal; and
c) Undue delay may well result in impairment of the ability of
the accused to defend himself, whether on account of death,
disappearance or non-availability of witnesses or otherwise”
202. The Court undertook a comprehensive review of the earlier decisions
in which a remand for a fresh trial was considered inappropriate and unfair
to the accused persons having regard to the intervening delay. The
following passage is in this regard apposite:
“41. In Machander v. State of Hyderabad 1955 CriLJ 1644, this
Court observed that while it is incumbent on the court to see
that no guilty person escapes, it is still more its duty to see
that justice is not delayed and accused persons are not
indefinitely harassed. The scales, the court observed, must be
held even between the prosecution and the accused. In the facts
of that case, the court refused to order trial on account of the
time already spent and other relevant circumstances of that
case. In Veerbhadra v. Ramaswamy Naickar 1958 CriLJ 1565, this
Court refused to send back proceedings on the ground that
already a period of five years has elapsed and it would not be
just and proper in the circumstances of the case to continue the
proceedings after such a lapse of time. Similarly, in Chajju Ram
v. Radhey Sham [1971] S.C.R. 172, the court refused to direct a
re-trial after a period of 10 years having regard to the facts
and circumstances of the case. In State of U.P. v. Kapil Deo
Shukla 1972 CriLJ 1214, though the court found the acquittal of
the accused unsustainable, it refused to order a remand or
direct a trial after a lapse of 20 years. It is, thus, clear
that even apart from Article 21 courts in this country have been
cognizant of undue delays in criminal matters and wherever there
was inordinate delay or where the proceedings were pending for
too long and any further proceedings were deemed to be
oppressive and unwarranted, they were put an end to by making
appropriate orders.”
203. In Machander’s case referred to in the above passage, this Court had
summed up the position as follows:
“…We are not prepared to keep persons who are on trial for their
lives under indefinite suspense because trial judges omit to do
their duty. Justice is not one-sided. It has many facets and we
have to draw a nice balance between conflicting rights and
duties. While it is incumbent on us to see that the guilty do
not escape it is even more necessary to see that persons accused
of crime are not indefinitely harassed. They must be given a
fair and impartial trial and while every reasonable latitude
must be given to those concerned with the detections of crime
and entrusted with the administration of justice, limits must be
placed on the lengths to which they may go.

Except in clear cases of guilt, where the error is purely
technical, the forces that are arrayed against the accused
should no more be permitted in special appeal to repair the
effects of their bungling than an accused should be permitted to
repairs gaps in his defence which he could and ought to have
made good in the lower courts. The scales of justice must be
kept on an even balance whether for the accused or against him,
whether in favour of the State or not; and one broad rule must
apply in all cases…”

(emphasis supplied)

204. So also in Ramaswamy Naickar’s case relied upon by this Court in the
above passage, a fresh inquiry into the complaint after five years was
considered inappropriate. This Court observed:

“…But the question still remains whether, even after expressing
our strong disagreement with the interpretation of the Section
by the courts below, this Court should direct a further inquiry
into the complaint, which has stood dismissed for the last about
5 years. The action complained of against the accused persons,
if true, was foolish, to put it mildly, but as the case has
become stale, we do not direct further inquiry into this
complaint. If there is a recurrence of such a foolish behaviour
on the part of any Section of the community, we have no doubt
that those charged with the duty of maintaining law and order,
will apply the law in the sense in which we have interpreted the
law. The appeal is therefore, dismissed…”

(emphasis supplied)

205. To the same effect is the decision of this Court in Kantilal
Chandulal Mehta v. The State of Maharashtra and Anr. (1969) 3 SCC 166 where
this Court observed:
“…In our view the Criminal Procedure Code gives ample power to
the courts to alter or amend a charge whether by the trial court
or by the appellate court provided that the accused has not face
a charge for a new offence or is not prejudiced either by
keeping him in the dark about that charge or in not giving a
full opportunity of meeting it and putting forward any defence
open to him, on the charge finally preferred against him…”
206. The incident in the case at hand occurred about 16 years ago. To
frame a charge for a new offence and remand the matter back for the accused
to face a prolonged trial again does not appear to us to be a reasonable
proposition. We say so independent of the finding that we have recorded
that the fact situation the case at hand does not suggest that the accused
Ansal brothers or any one of them, had the knowledge that their acts of
omission or commission was likely to cause death of any human being.
Question No.3 is accordingly answered in the negative.
Re: Question No.IV:

207. We have, in the earlier part of this judgment, while dealing with
Question No.I, examined the scope of criminal appeals by special leave and
observed that this Court may interfere in such appeals only where wrong
inferences of law have been drawn from facts proved before the Courts or
where the conclusions drawn by the High Court are perverse and based on no
evidence whatsoever. The scope of interference by this Court with the
quantum of punishment awarded by the High Court is also similarly limited
to cases where the sentence awarded is manifestly inadequate and where the
Court considers such reduced punishment to be tantamount to failure of
justice. This can be best illustrated by reference to cases in which this
Court has interfered to either enhance the punishment awarded by the High
Court or remitted the matter back to the High Court for a fresh order on
the subject.

208. In Sham Sunder v. Puran and Anr. (1990) 4 SCC 731, the High Court had
converted a conviction for an offence under Section 302 to that under
Section 304 Part I and reduced the sentence to the period already undergone
(less than six months) where the accused had inflicted repeated blows with
a sharp-edged weapon on the chest of the deceased, and later on vital parts
like the head, back and shoulders after he fell to the ground in a sudden
fight. This Court found the reduced sentence imposed by the High Court to
be grossly inadequate and held that it amounted to a failure of justice.
Enhancing the sentence to five years imprisonment, this Court observed:

“3. It is true that the High Court is entitled to reappraise the
evidence in the case. It is also true that under Article 136,
the Supreme Court does not ordinarily reappraise the evidence
for itself for determining whether or not the High Court has
come to a correct conclusion on facts but where the High Court
has completely missed the real point requiring determination and
has also on erroneous grounds discredited the evidence…the
Supreme Court would be justified in going into the evidence for
the purpose of satisfying itself that grave injustice has not
resulted in the case.

xx xx xx

8. The High Court has reduced the sentence to the term of
imprisonment already undergone while enhancing the fine. It is
pointed out that the respondents have undergone only
imprisonment for a short period of less than six months and, in
a grave crime like this, the sentence awarded is rather
inadequate…The sentence imposed by the High Court appears to
be so grossly and entirely inadequate as to involve a failure of
justice. We are of opinion that to meet the ends of justice, the
sentence has to be enhanced.”

(emphasis supplied)
209. In Deo Narain Mandal v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2004) 7 SCC 257, the
trial Court had awarded a maximum sentence of two years rigorous
imprisonment for an offence punishable under Section 365, IPC. The High
Court reduced the sentence to the period undergone (forty days). A three-
Judge Bench of this Court intervened on the ground that the sentence
awarded was wholly disproportionate to the crime and substituted a sentence
of six months rigorous imprisonment. The Court held as follows:

“8. This brings us to the next question in regard to the
reduction of sentence made by the High Court. In criminal cases
awarding of sentence is not a mere formality. Where the statute
has given the court a choice of sentence with maximum and
minimum limit presented then an element of discretion is vested
with the court. This discretion cannot be exercised arbitrarily
or whimsically. It will have to be exercised taking into
consideration the gravity of offence, the manner in which it is
committed, the age, the sex of the accused, in other words the
sentence to be awarded will have to be considered in the
background of the fact of each case and the court while doing so
should bear in mind the principle of proportionality. The
sentence awarded should be neither excessively harsh nor
ridiculously low.

xx xx xx

10. The High Court in this case without even noticing the fact
what is the actual sentence undergone by the appellant pursuant
to his conviction awarded by the Trial Court proceeded to reduce
the same to the period already undergone with an added sentences
of fine as stated above. Of course, the High Court by the
impugned order recorded that the facts and circumstances of the
case as well as age, character and other antecedents of the
appellant which made the court feel that the ends of justice
would be met if the sentence is reduced and modified. This
conclusion of the High Court for reducing the sentence in our
considered view is wholly disproportionate to the offence of
which the appellant is found guilty.

11…On facts and circumstances of this case, we must hold that
sentence of 40 days for an offence punishable under Section
365/511 read with Section 149 is wholly inadequate and
disproportionate.

12. For the reasons stated above, we are of the opinion that the
judgment of the High Court, so far as it pertains to the
reduction of sentence awarded by the Trial Court will have to be
set aside.”

(emphasis supplied)

210. Similarly in State of U.P. v. Shri Kishan (2005) 10 SCC 420 this
Court intervened when a sentence of seven years rigorous imprisonment
awarded by the trial Court for an offence punishable under Section 304 Part
II, IPC was reduced by the High Court to the period already undergone,
without regard to the period actually served by the accused. This Court
directed the High Court to re-hear the appeal on the question of sentence
keeping in mind the principles on sentencing laid down by this Court in
State of Madhya Pradesh v. Ghanshyam Singh (2003) 8 SCC 13 that the
sentence must be proportionate to the offence committed and sentence ought
not to be reduced merely on account of long pendency of the matter.

211. In State of M.P. v. Sangram and Ors. AIR 2006 SC 48 a three-Judge
Bench of this Court remanded the matter to the High Court for fresh
disposal without going into the merits of the case, when it found that the
High Court had reduced a sentence for an offence under Section 307 IPC from
seven years rigorous imprisonment to the period already undergone (ten
months and five days) by a short and cryptic judgment:

“…Learned counsel for the appellant has submitted that the
sentence imposed by the High Court is wholly inadequate looking
to the nature of the offence. The High Court has not assigned
any satisfactory reason for reducing the sentence to less than
one year. That apart, the High Court has written a very short
and cryptic judgment. To say the least, the appeal has been
disposed of in a most unsatisfactory manner exhibiting complete
non-application of mind. There is absolutely no consideration of
the evidence adduced by the parties…Since the judgment of the
High Court is not in accordance with law, we have no option but
to set aside the same and to remit the matter back to the High
Court for a fresh consideration of the appeal…”
212. It is manifest from the above that while exercising extra-ordinary
jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution this Court has not acted
like an ordinary Appellate Court but has confined its interference only to
such rarest of rare situations in which the sentence awarded is so
incommensurate with the gravity of the offence that it amounts to failure
of justice. As a matter of fact in Deo Narain Mandal’s case (supra) while
this Court found the sentence awarded to be wholly disproportionate to
gravity of the offence, this Court considered imprisonment for a period of
six months to be sufficient for an offence which is punishable by a maximum
term of two years rigorous imprisonment. Award of sentence of one year
rigorous imprisonment for an offence where maximum sentence prescribed
extends to two years cannot, therefore, be said to be inadequate to call
for interference by this Court under Article 136 of the Constitution.

213. Having said that we must notice certain additional and peculiar
features of this case. First and foremost is the fact that Mr. Salve,
learned counsel for CBI, did not, in the course of his submissions, urge
that the sentence awarded by the High Court to Ansals was inadequate. This
is in contrast to the grounds urged in the memo of appeal by the CBI where
the inadequacy of sentence was also assailed. In the absence of any
attempt leave alone a serious one by the State acting through CBI to
question the correctness of the view taken by the High Court on the quantum
of sentence we would consider the ground taken in the memo of appeal to
have been abandoned at the Bar.

214. The second and an equally important consideration that would weigh
with any Court is the question of prolonged trial that the accused have
faced and the delay of more than sixteen years in the conclusion of the
proceedings against them. We have in the earlier part of our order referred
to the decision of a three-Judge Bench of this Court in Hussainara Khatoon
case (supra) where this Court declared the right to speedy trial to be
implicit in Article 21 of the Constitution. Such being the case delay has
been often made a basis for the award of a reduced sentence, as for
instance in Balaram Swain v. State of Orissa 1991 Supp (1) SCC 510 this
Court reduced the sentence from one year rigorous imprisonment to the
period undergone (less than six months) on the ground that there was a
delay of twenty three years involving long mental agony and heavy
expenditure for the accused. So also in M.O. Shamsudhin v. State of Kerala
(1995) 3 SCC 351 sentence was reduced by this Court from two years rigorous
imprisonment to the period undergone on the ground of delay of eight years.
There is no reason why in the case at hand the delayed conclusion of the
proceedings should not have been taken by the High Court as a ground for
reduced sentence of one year.

215. The third circumstance which dissuades us from interfering with the
sentence awarded by the High Court is the fact that the appellant-Ansals
did not have any criminal background and are both senior citizens, whose
company has already been adjudged liable to pay compensation to the victims
besides punitive damages awarded against them. This Court has in MCD, Delhi
v. AVUT (supra) arising out of a writ petition seeking compensation for the
victims and their families awarded compensation @ Rs.10 lakhs in the case
of death of those aged more than 20 years and 7.5 lakhs in the case of
those aged 20 years and less besides compensation of Rs.1 lakh to those
injured in the incident with interest @ 9% p.a. and punitive damages of
Rs.25 lakhs. There is no dispute that the amount awarded by the High Court
has been deposited by the Ansal Theaters & Clubotels (P) Ltd. in the
proportion in which the claim has been awarded. The award so made is in
tune with the spirit of the view taken by this Court in Ankush Shivaji
Gaikwad v. State of Maharashtra (2013) 6 SCC 770 where this Court noted a
global paradigm shift away from retributive justice towards victimology or
restitution in criminal law. There is no gainsaying that in the absence of
the order passed by this Court in MCD, Delhi v. AVUT (supra), we may have
ourselves determined the compensation payable to the victims and awarded
the same against Ansal brothers. Any such exercise is rendered unnecessary
by the said decision especially because a reading of sub-section (5) of
Section 357 of the Cr.P.C. makes it manifest that compensation awarded by a
Criminal Court under Section 357 cannot be more than the sum that may be
payable or recovered as compensation in a subsequent civil suit. That
provision was interpreted by this Court in Dilip S. Dahanukar v. Kotak
Mahindra Co. Ltd. (2007) 6 SCC 528 to hold that the amount of compensation
under Section 357 should ordinarily be less than the amount which can be
granted by a civil Court upon appreciation of the evidence brought before
it for losses that it may have reasonably suffered.

216. For all that we have stated above we do not see any merit in the
contention of Mr. Tulsi that the punishment awarded to the Ansal brothers
ought to be enhanced either because there is an allegation against them for
tampering with the Court’s record or because there is a complaint pending
against them before the learned ACMM in which Ansal brothers and their so
called henchmen are accused of having intimidated and threatened the
President of the Victims’ Association. There is no gainsaying that both
these matters are pending adjudication by the competent criminal Court and
any observation as to the truthfulness of the allegations made therein will
not only be inappropriate but also prejudicial to one or the other party.
So also the argument that the Ansal brothers having persistently lied about
their association with the company does not, in our opinion, outweigh the
considerations that we have indicated hereinabove while upholding the view
taken by the High Court on the question of sentence. We need to remind
ourselves that award of punishment in a case where guilt of the accused is
proved, is as serious and important a matter as the forensic process of
reasoning by which the presumption of innocence is rebutted and the accused
pronounced guilty. Like the former the latter also needs to be guided by
sound logic uninfluenced by any emotional or impulsive outburst or
misplaced sympathy that more often than not manifests itself in the form of
a sentence that is either much too heavy and oppressive or wholly
incommensurate considering the gravity of the offence committed. Courts
have to avoid such extremities in their approach especially where there is
no legislative compulsion or statutory prescription in the form of a
minimum sentence for an offence. The Courts do well to avoid the Shylockian
heartlessness in demanding the proverbial pound of flesh. Justice tempered
by mercy is what the Courts of law administer even to the most hardened
criminals. A spine- chilling sentence may be the cry of those who have
suffered the crime or its aftermath but Courts are duty bound to hold the
scales of justice even by examining the adequacy of punishment in each case
having regard to the peculiar facts in which the offence was committed and
the demands of justice by retribution within permissible limits. Absence of
a uniform sentencing policy may often make any such endeavour difficult but
the Courts do, as they ought to, whatever is fair and reasonable the
difficulties, besetting that exercise notwithstanding.

217. Question No.IV is accordingly answered in the negative.
Re: Question No.V:

218. Adherence to safety standards in cinema theatres and multiplexes in
India is the key to the prevention of tragedies like the one in the instant
case. The misfortune, however, is that those concerned with the enforcement
of such standards often turn a blind eye to the violations, in the process
endangering the lives of those who frequent such places. While the case at
hand may be an eye-opener for such of them as are remiss in their duty
towards the public visiting cinema theatres and multiplexes, the
authorities concerned cannot afford to let their guard down. As seen in
the earlier part of this order, there are both civil and criminal
liabilities that arise out of any such neglect. Those who commit violations
of the same are accountable before law and may eventually come to grief
should an incident occur resulting in injury or loss of human lives. We
would have in the ordinary course issued directions to the authorities to
take corrective steps, but for the fact that such directions have already
been issued by a coordinate Bench while dealing with claims for payment of
compensation made by the legal heirs of those who died and others who were
injured in the incident. This Court has in the said decision observed:

“45. While affirming the several suggestions by the High Court,
we add the following suggestions to the government for
consideration and implementation:

(i) Every licensee (cinema theatre) shall be required to draw up
an emergency evacuation plan and get it approved by the
licensing authority.

(ii) Every cinema theatre shall be required to screen a short
documentary during every show showing the exits, emergency
escape routes and instructions as to what to do and what not to
do in the case of fire or other hazards.

(iii) The staff/ushers in every cinema theatre should be trained
in fire drills and evacuation procedures to provide support to
the patrons in case of fire or other calamity.

(iv) While the theatres are entitled to regulate the exit
through doors other than the entry door, under no circumstances,
the entry door (which can act as an emergency exit) in the event
of fire or other emergency) should be bolted from outside. At
the end of the show, the ushers may request the patrons to use
the exit doors by placing a temporary barrier across the entry
gate which should be easily movable.

(v) There should be mandatory half yearly inspections of cinema
theatres by a senior officer from the Delhi Fire Services,
Electrical Inspectorate and the Licensing Authority to verify
whether the electrical installations and safety measures are
properly functioning and take action wherever necessary.

(vi) As the cinema theatres have undergone a change in the last
decade with more and more multiplexes coming up, separate rules
should be made for Multiplex Cinemas whose requirements and
concerns are different from stand-alone cinema theatres.

(vii) An endeavour should be made to have a single point nodal
agency/licensing authority consisting of experts in structural
Engineering/building, fire prevention, electrical systems etc.
The existing system of police granting licences should be
abolished.

(viii) Each cinema theatre, whether it is a multiplex or stand-
alone theatre should be given a fire safety rating by the Fire
Services which can be in green (fully compliant), yellow
(satisfactorily compliant), red (poor compliance). The rating
should be prominently displayed in each theatre so that there is
awareness among the patrons and the building owners.

(ix) The Delhi Disaster Management Authority, established by the
Government of NCT of Delhi may expeditiously evolve standards to
manage the disasters relating to cinema theatres and the
guidelines in regard to ex gratia assistance. It should be
directed to conduct mock drills in each cinema theatre at least
once in a year.”
219. We had in the light of the above passed an order in Criminal Appeal
No.603 of 2010 directing the concerned to file a status report as to the
steps taken pursuant to the above directions. We regret to say that nothing
much appears to have happened since the issue of the directions extracted
above. This would have called for monitoring of the steps which the
authorities concerned were directed to take, but any such process would
have further delayed the pronouncement of this order. We have, therefore,
decided against that course. We all the same leave it open to the Victims’
Association or any other public spirited person to seek implementation of
the said directions in appropriate proceedings.

220. Question No. V is answered accordingly.
221. In the result :

i) Criminal Appeals No.597 of 2010 and 598 of 2010 filed by Sushil
Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2) respectively are hereby dismissed
upholding the conviction and sentences awarded to them.

ii) Criminal Appeal No.599 of 2010 filed by Divisional Fire Officer,
H.S. Panwar (A-15) is also dismissed upholding his conviction and
sentence.

iii) Criminal Appeal No.617-627 of 2010 and No.604 of 2010 filed by
D.V.B. Inspector B.M. Satija (A-9) and Senior Fitter Bir Singh (A-
11) are partly allowed to the extent that the conviction of the
said two appellants is altered to Sections 337 and 338 read with
Section 36 IPC without interference with the sentence awarded to
them.

iv) Criminal Appeal No.605-616 of 2010 filed by CBI and Criminal Appeal
No.600-602 of 2010 filed by the Association of Victims of Uphaar
Tragedy are dismissed.

222. Appellants Sushil Ansal (A-1), Gopal Ansal (A-2) and H.S. Panwar (A-
15) are on bail. They are granted three weeks time to surrender, failing
which the Trial Court shall take appropriate steps for having them
apprehended and committed to jail for undergoing the remainder of their
sentences.

.………………….……….…..…J.
(T.S. THAKUR)
March 5, 2014

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELALTE JURISDICTION

CRIMINAL APPEAL NOs. 605-616/2010

STATE THROUGH CBI .. Appellant

Versus

SUSHIL ANSAL & ORS. ETC. ..Respondents

WITH

CRIMINAL APPEAL NOs. 600-602/2010

ASSOCIATION OF VICTIMS OF UPHAAR TRAGEDY .Appellant

Versus

SUSHIL ANSAL & ANR. ..Respondents

J U D G M E N T

GYAN SUDHA MISRA, J.

1. Having had the benefit of the views and reasonings assigned in
the judgment and order of Hon’ble Justice T.S. Thakur, I entirely agree and
hence concur with the findings recorded therein which are based on an in
depth analysis and meticulous scrutiny of evidence led by the prosecution
as also the accused appellants therein. Hence, I approve of the conviction
of the accused appellants under Sections 304A, 337, 338 read with Section
36 of the Indian Penal Code (‘IPC’ for short) and Section 14 of the Indian
Cinematograph Act, 1952.

2. However, when it comes to determination and imposition of
sentence on the appellants due to their gross criminal negligence, I find
it difficult to be unmindful or ignore that this country and more
particularly the capital city of Delhi was shocked and shaken to the core
16 years ago by the magnitude and disastrous incident which took place on
13.6.1997 in a cinema house now widely known as Uphaar Tragedy which had
virtually turned the cinema house into a pitch dark gas chamber wherein
the cinema viewers were initially trapped due to lack of sufficient space
and light for exit from the cinema hall and finally 59 persons lost their
lives due to asphyxiation in the catastrophe which is perhaps unparalleled
in the history of the city of Delhi. This tragic incident happened due to
grave lapse on the part of the appellants/respondents in the instant
appeals preferred by the AVUT and the CBI, who have been held guilty of
gross criminal negligence concurrently by the Trial Court and the High
Court which are now being approved by us in these appeals.

3. The appellants Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal in Criminal Appeal
No. 597 of 2010 and Criminal Appeal No.598 of 2010, therefore, had been
charged and convicted for an offence under Section 304A, 337, 338 read
with Section 36 I.P.C. and Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 and
sentenced to undergo imprisonment for two years by the trial court.
Similarly, the appellants in Criminal Appeal No.599 of 2010 and Criminal
Appeal No.617 to 627 of 2010 and Criminal Appeal No.604 of 2010 preferred
by the Divisional Fire Officer H.S. Panwar and Officers of Delhi Vidyut
Board (shortly referred to as ‘DVB’) were also convicted and sentenced to
terms of imprisonment specified in the impugned judgment and order of the
High Court of Delhi. On appeal, however, the High Court although upheld the
conviction of the appellants/respondents herein under the sections referred
to hereinbefore, was pleased to reduce the sentence of two years into one
year but the appellants/respondents herein have still preferred a batch of
appeals in this Court challenging their conviction and sentence on several
grounds.

4. Learned Justice T.S. Thakur in the accompanying judgment and
order has already dealt with the matter in extensive detail and has
recorded a finding upholding their conviction and sentence under Section
304A alongwith the other Sections. I fully endorse the same and hence
uphold the conviction of the appellants under Section 304A, 337, 338 read
with Section 36 of the IPC and Section 14 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

5. But with regard to the question of sentence, it may be noted
that the trial court had convicted the appellants and sentenced them to
imprisonment for two years which has been reduced by the High Court to
one year only in spite of the fact that the High Court also upheld the
findings of the trial court on the charge under Section 304A and other
allied sections referred to hereinbefore. However, the High Court in
spite of its finding highlighting the magnitude and gravity of the offence
committed by the appellants has simply observed that the maximum sentence
of two years under Section 304A is fit to be reduced to a period of one
year only for which no specific reason much less cogent
and convincing has been assigned as to why in the wake of

the finding upholding the charge and conviction under Section 304A IPC,
should not have upheld and maximum sentence of two years and whether the
same was fit to be reduced to a period of one year only. But, before
dealing with the question of quantum and sufficiency of punishment imposed
on the appellant, I deem it appropriate to take into consideration the
appeal filed by the appellant-Association for victims of Uphaar Tragedy
(shortly referred to as ‘the AVUT’) bearing Criminal Appeal No.600-602/2010
filed by the AVUT in a representative capacity for the victims of Uphaar
Tragedy as also the appeal filed by the C.B.I. bearing No.605 to 616 of
2010.

6. Learned Senior Counsel Mr. K.T.S. Tulsi in support of the
appeal preferred by the AVUT had initially challenged the charge framed
against the accused appellants under Section 304A and had contended that
the charge was fit to be converted under Section 304 Part II IPC. On
perusal of the findings, views and observations as also the reasons
assigned therein by Hon’ble Thakur, J., I entirely agree that after more
than 16 years of the incident, it would not be just and appropriate to
remand the matter back to the trial court to consider converting the
charge from Section 304A to 304 IPC so that the accused may face prolonged
trial all over again as I am also equally of the view that it
would not be reasonable or a just proposition and the correct course of
action to adopt. However, this does not deter me from accepting the
contention of the counsel for the AVUT that even if this Court considers
that at this length of time from the date of the incident ordering a
fresh trail may not be in the larger public interest, it would not be a
reason to refuse to consider whether accused-appellants deserved the
maximum sentence permissible under Section 304A IPC in spite of the gravity
of charge and conviction which we have upheld.

7. In order to consider this crucial aspect of the matter, it
would be necessary to recollect and refer to the findings recorded by the
trial court and the High Court approved by us which learned Thakur J. has
analyzed in great detail holding that the death of 59 innocent persons
are directly relatable to the rash and negligent acts of omissions and
commissions of the accused persons which were performed with such gross
negligence and indifference which clearly amounts to culpable criminal
negligence and failure to exercise reasonable and proper care in running
the cinema shows in their theatre namely Uphaar and the failure of the
accused-appellants to perform the imperative duties cast upon them by
statutory rules, which were sufficient to establish culpable criminal
rashness and it further establishes that they acted with consciousness and
the requisite knowledge as to the consequence of their acts of omissions
and commissions. Death of innocent persons is thus not only contributed
by the actions of the accused-appellants but is directly relatable to
the overt acts and conscious omissions performed by them. Hence, I fully
agree with the views of learned Brother Justice Thakur that the degree of
care expected from an occupier/owner of a place which is frequented
everyday by hundreds if not thousands is very high in comparison to any
other place that is less frequented or more sparingly used for public
functions. It is also equally true and I agree that the higher the number
of visitors to a place and greater the frequency of such visits, the
degree of care required to be observed for their safety is higher. I,
therefore, endorse the findings recorded by Thakur J., that judged in the
above backdrop, it is evident that the occupiers/appellants in the present
case had showed scant regard both for the letter of law as also the duty
under the common law to care for the safety of their patrons. I also
further agree with the view that the occupiers not only committed
deviations from the sanctioned building plan that heightened the risk to
the safety of the visitors but continued to operate the cinema in
contemptuous disregard for the requirements of law and in the process
exposed the cine goers to a high degree of risk to their lives which some
of them eventually lost in the incident in question.

8. Far from taking any additional care towards the safety of the
visitors to the cinema, the occupiers asked for permission to place
additional seats that further compromised with the safety requirements
and raised the level of risks to the patrons. There is much substance in
the view taken that the history of litigation between the occupiers on
the one hand and the government on the other regarding the removal of the
additional seats permitted and their opposition to the concerns expressed
by the authorities on account of increased fire hazards as also their
insistence that the addition or continuance of the seats would not affect
the safety requirements of the patrons/cine goers clearly showed that the
owner of the cinema house were more concerned with making a little more
profit out of the few additional seats that were added to the cinema in
the balcony rather than maintaining the required standards of safety in
discharge of the common law duty but also under the provisions of the
Delhi Cinematograph Rules,1953 (for short ‘DCR 1953’).

9. It is no doubt true which was urged on behalf of accused-
appellants that the incident in question which resulted in death of 59
persons in the fire that broke out was caused by the fire which started
from the Delhi Vidyut Board Transformer which was poorly maintained and
shabbily repaired by the Delhi Vidyut Board officials in the morning of
13th June, 1997. It was urged that the causa causans i.e. the cause of
all causes for the loss of human lives thus was the transformer that caught
fire because of the negligence of the DVB officials who did not even have
a crimping machine to repair the transformer properly. The absence of oil
soaking pit in the transformer room was also a reason for the oil to
spill out from the transformer room to spread the fire to the parking
area from where smoke containing lethal carbon monoxide rose, and due to
chimney effect , entered the hall to cause asphyxiation to those inside the
balcony. It was, therefore, urged on behalf of the accused-
appellants/cinema house owners that there was no evidence that any death
had taken place inside the balcony which proved that most if not all the
patrons sitting in the balcony had exited from that area but died on
account of the poisonous effect of the gas enough to kill human being
within minutes of exposure. Placing reliance on the ratio of the
decision of this Court in the case of Kurban Hussein’s case reported in
1965 (2) SCR 622, it was no doubt submitted that the causa causans in
the case at hand was the fire in the DVB transformer and not the alleged
deviations in the building plan or the sitting arrangements or the
obstructions in the stair case that led out of the cinema precincts.

10. In fact, learned counsel representing the CBI Mr. Harish Salve
and the counsel representing AVUT Mr. KTS Tulsi accepted the position that
while there was no quarrel with the proposition that death must be shown
to have occurred as a direct, immediate or proximate result of the act of
rashness or negligence, it was not correct to say that the deaths in this
case had occurred merely because of the fire in the transformer. In fact,
failure of the victims to rapidly exit from the smoke filled atmosphere in
the balcony area because of the obstructions and deviations proved at
the trial was the real, direct and immediate cause for the death of the
victims in the instant case who would have safely escaped the poisonous
carbon monoxide gas only if there were proper gangways, exits, emergency
lights and alarm system in working condition and human assistance
available to those trapped inside the hall. I see no reason to differ or
disagree with this finding so as to take a different view from what has
been taken by Hon’ble Justice Thakur who has upheld the findings of the
trial court and the High Court on these aspects.

11. Thus there appears to be two features in this context which
need to be addressed and the first one is that the victims in the
present case did not die of burn injuries but all of them died because of
asphyxiation on account of prolonged exposure to poisonous gases that
filled the cinema hall including the balcony area. Whatever may have been
the source of fire as to whether it was caused by the DVB transformer or
otherwise, the causa sine quo non was that there would have been no smoke
possible without fire; the proximate cause was the smoke in the balcony
area. Had there been no smoke in the balcony area, there would have been no
casualties; that is not however the same thing as saying that it was the
fire or the resultant smoke that was causa causans. In fact it was the
inability of the victims to move out of the smoke filled area which was
the direct cause of their death. Placed in a smoke filled atmosphere
anyone would distinctively try to escape from it to save himself.
Therefore, if such escapes were delayed or prevented, the causa causans
for death was not the smoke but the factors that prevented or delayed the
escape of cine goers from the

smoke filled area which was the cinema house which got converted into a
gas chamber.

12. I find sufficient substance and force and hence agree with the
view taken by Hon’ble Justice Thakur that even if there had been
adequate number of exits, gangways and all other safety measures in
place but the exits had been locked preventing people from escaping, the
cause of death in such event would be the act of preventing people from
fleeing/exiting from the smoke filled hall which may be depending upon
whether the act was deliberately intended to cause death or unintended due
to negligence amounting to culpable homicide amounting to murder which
was an act of gross negligence punishable under Section 304 A. An
hypothetical case has rightly been relied upon to infer that where
instead of four exits required under the relevant rules, the owner of a
cinema had provided only one exit, that would have prevented the patrons
from moving out of the hall rapidly from the smoke filled atmosphere.
Thus, the cause of all causes termed as ‘causa causans’ would be the
negligent act of providing only one exit instead of four required for the
purpose. In such an eventuality, it would make no difference whether the
fire had started from a source within the cinema complex or outside or
whether the occupiers of the cinema were responsible for the fire or
someone else. Thus if failure to exit was the immediate cause of death
which is the view taken by learned Justice Thakur and I agree, that the
same would constitute the causa causans and hence I see no reason to
deviate from the view taken as I find sufficient substance and force
in the view that the smoke entered the cinema hall and the balcony but
escape was prevented or at least delayed because of breach of the common
law and statutory duty to care. Reference of the citations on this point
relied upon by Justice Thakur in the accompanying judgment needs no
further reiteration which has been amply discussed at great length
therein.

13. The defence no doubt has relied upon the principle of benefit
of penal immunity that if the person doing an act is acting under a
mistake of fact and the person doing the act in good faith believes himself
to be justified by law in doing it, then he would be entitled to
protection under Section 52 of the IPC which states “that nothing is said
to be done or believed in “good faith” which is done or believed without
due care and attention” would incur penal consequences.

14. The use of expression “good faith” in this context necessarily
brings in the question whether the person concerned had acted with due care
and caution. If they had not, part (b) of Section 79 IPC would have no
application to the case. In this context, it is difficult to overlook the
evidence addressed by the prosecution/C.B.I. Thus the view taken by
Justice Thakur that due care for the safety of the patrons was cast upon
the two appellants Ansal Brothers fell upon them which they failed to
comply as the evidence adduced at the trial and the concurrent findings
recorded by the courts below have established the breach of the duty in
several respects which include absence of any public address system to
warn the viewers of the cinema inside the cinema hall in the event of any
emergency which was a part of the duty to care which was grossly breached
by the occupiers/appellants herein. This duty was a continuing obligation
and had to be strictly discharged in respect of each cinema show
conducted in the theatre. The grant of license or its renewal by the
licensing authority did not in any manner relieve the occupiers of that
obligation. Similarly, the requirement that the cinema house must have had
emergency lights, fire extinguishers and that the occupiers must have
provided help to the viewers in case of any emergency ensuring rapid
dispersal from the enclosed area, were obligations which were implicit
in the issuance and renewal of cinematograph license. Breach of all
these obligations could not be justified on the ground that a license
was granted or renewed in favour of the owners/licensee and no matter what,
the duty to care towards the safety of the patrons was grossly neglected
by the theatre owners/ the accused appellants. Failures in the event of
mishap like the one at hand on account of the occupiers to discharge
their legal obligations to take care for the safety of the patrons thus
cannot be held to be immune

from prosecution simply because a license to exhibit the films had
been granted or renewed from time to time. The test of ordinary prudence
applied to such proved attendant circumstances thus can help the court
to determine whether an act or omission was in good faith or otherwise.

15. Thus, the finding recorded in the judgment by Thakur J., to the
effect that the fundamental obligation and duty to care at all times
rested with the occupiers of the cinema house and the licensee thereof is
fit to be upheld. In discharge of the duty the appellants/owners are
surely not entitled to argue that so long as there was a license in
their favour, they would not be accountable for the loss of life or limb
of anyone qua whom the occupiers/owners owed that duty. The duty to care
for the safety of the cine goers even independent of the statutory
additions made to the same , required the occupiers to take all such steps
and measures which would have ensured quick dispersal from the cinema
building of all the viewers inside the premises in the event of an
emergency. But apart from that, a sitting plan which was in breach of the
statutory provisions and compromised the safety requirement prescribed
under the DCR 1953, could hardly support a belief in good faith that
exhibition of films with such a plan was legally justified. That is so
especially when the repeal of notification dated 30th September 1976 by
which Uphaar was permitted 100 more seats was followed by a demand for
removal of the additional seats. Instead of doing so the appellants/owners
challenged that demand in a writ petition before the High Court of Delhi
in which the High Court directed the authorities to have a fresh look
from the standpoint of substantial compliance of the provisions of the
Cinematograph Act. The High Court observed and directed the administration
to apply their mind to the additional seats with a view to determine which
of them have contravened which rules and to what extent. It was observed
that compliance with the rule were to be substantial and not rigid and
inflexible. If while carrying out the above directive, the authorities
concerned turned a blind eye to the fundamentals of the rules by
ignoring the closure of the right side exit and gangway prescribed as an
essential requirement under DCR 1953, they acted in breach of the rules and
in the process endangered the safety of the cinema viewers. The
cinema owners had opposed the removal of the additional seats even
when the respondent-authorities in the writ petition had expressed
concerns about the safety of the patrons if the additional seats were
not removed which removal would have by itself resulted in restoration
of the right side gangway. However, the authorities also ought to have
insisted on the restoration of the right side exit by removal of the eight
seaters box which was allowed in the year 1978 ostensibly because with
the right side gangway getting closed by additional seats occupying that
space, the authorities considered the continuance of the right side exit
to be of no practical use.

16. In the wake of the aforesaid concurrent findings, the question
looms large as to why the High Court interfered with the quantum of
punishment imposed by the trial court which had awarded a sentence of two
years to the accused appellants but was reduced by the High Court to a
period of one year without any reason as I cannot be unmindful of the legal
position that the scope of interference on the question of sentence and
with the quantum of punishment awarded by the High Court is undoubtedly
limited to cases where the sentence imposed is manifestly inadequate
and which the Court considers such reduced punishment tantamount to no
punishment or illusory.
17. On a perusal of the ratios of cases referred to on this point
specially in the matter of Sham Sunder vs. Puran and Anr. (1990) 4 SCC
731, it has been held that in a case where the sentence imposed by the
High Court appears to be so grossly and entirely inadequate as to involve
a failure of justice, this Court would be justified in interfering and
enhancing the sentence and hence the period undergone awarded by the High
Court was increased to a period of five years in a case under Section 304
Part I IPC considering the nature of offence committed by the accused as
this Court has unequivocally held that in criminal cases, awarding of
sentence is not a mere formality and whenever this Court is of the view
that the sentence awarded is wholly disproportionate to the crime, it
would be justified in substituting it with a sentence of higher degree and
quantum.

18. It has been held that where the statute has given the Court a
choice of sentence with maximum and minimum limit presented, an element of
discretion is surely vested with the court but this discretion cannot be
exercised arbitrarily or whimsically. It will have to be exercised
taking into consideration the gravity of offence, the manner in which it
is committed, the age, the sex of the accused, in other words the sentence
to be awarded will have to be considered in the background of the fact
of each case and the Court while doing so should bear in mind the
principle of proportionality that the sentence awarded should be neither
excessively harsh nor ridiculously low. This was the view expressed by a
three Judge Bench of this Court delivered in the matter of Deo Narain
Mandal vs. State of U.P. (2004) 7 SCC 257, wherein the trial court had
awarded a maximum sentence of two years R.I. for an offence punishable
under Section 365 IPC but the High Court reduced the sentence to the
period undergone (40 days). A bench of three Judges of this Court
intervened in the matter on the ground that the sentence awarded was wholly
disproportionate to the crime and hence substituted a sentence of six
months R.I. Similarly, the ratio of the cases already referred to by
Justice Thakur in his judgment viz. State of U.P. vs. Shri Kishan
(2005) 10 SCC 420; State of M.P. vs. Ghanshaym Singh (2003) 8 SCC 13 and
State of M.P. vs. Sangaram and Ors. AIR 2006 SC 48 unequivocally have
laid down that where sentence is wholly inadequate, the same may be
enhanced which has to be commensurate with the gravity of the offence
so that it may not amount to failure of justice. In all these cases,
when this Court found the sentence awarded by the High Court to be wholly
disproportionate to the gravity of offence and considered imprisonment
of a longer period which befitted the gravity of the offence committed by
the accused, it enhanced the quantum of sentence.

19. It is most certainly true that the award of punishment to
an accused in a case wherein the guilt of the accused is proved, is a
serious and important matter and the same needs to be guided by sound
logic uninfluenced by any emotional or impulsive outburst or misplaced
sympathy that more often than not, manifest itself in the form of a
sentence that is either much too heavy and oppressive or wholly in
commensurate considering the gravity of the offence committed. Courts in
any view have to avoid such extremities in their approach specially when
there is no legislative compulsion or statutory prescription in the form
of a minimum sentence for an offence committed.

20. Bearing the aforesaid parameters and the principles in mind
and in the light of findings recorded concurrently and approved by us, I
have not been able to convince myself or feel persuaded or find a valid
reason why the High Court should have reduced the sentence of two years
awarded by the trial court by reducing it to one year in the wake of the
finding recorded by us also as we have held that all the accused owed a
duty of care to the deceased persons since accused Sushil Ansal and A-2
Gopal Ansal were in actual control of the premises and took active
participation in the day to day management of the theatre. They were the
actual decision makers without whose approval no action could be undertaken
in the premises. A-1 was the licensee of the cinema and had the obligation
to run it with due and reasonable care. A-2 as the Managing Director of
Ansal Properties & Industries Ltd had exercised complete control over the
management of the theatre. They were the actual beneficiaries of the
establishment who were making out financial gains by charging the public.
As persons in charge of a public entertainment centre which caters to the
general public they owed a duty of care to maintain a safe environment. It
would be indeed very far fetched to contend that a person who maintains a
cinema hall and charges the public a fee for the facility, does not owe a
duty of care to ensure that the public can enjoy the facility in a safe
environment.

21. In the present case every rule in the book had been violated
with impunity, whether it be the maintenance of the transformer, illegal
user of the area around the transformer, closure of gangways and exit in
the balcony. Not only that the transformer was not kept in a safe
environment, the area around the transformer had been filled with
combustible substances so as to aggravate the danger. The public
announcement system, emergency lights etc which are the most basic
requirements in the cinema hall were non functional. On top of that, the
illegal closure of exit in the balcony ensured that patrons could not make
a speedy exit. All these decision were taken by A-1 and A-2 who were in
active control of the theatre and the premises. In such a scenario it can
easily be said that not only were they negligent but the negligence was of
such a high degree that no reasonable man would have undertaken such a
course specially the ones who were dealing in the business of running a
cinema theatre where the lives of public at large were involved day in and
day out as visitors to the cinema show.

22. The death of the deceased in the tragedy occurred due
to the trap created for them by A-1 and A-2 along with the other
actors who helped them achieve that end. Had the layout of the
balcony not been changed from the sanctioned plan to such an
extent that access to the right hand exit was

totally blocked, this tragedy would not have taken place. Due to the
blockage of the right hand exit the patrons were forced to use both the
left hand exits which opened on the smoke filled left hand stairs.

23. The conduct of A-1 and A-2/respondents in these appeals was
thus in total disregard of all the safety rules meant to contain a tragedy
of this kind coupled with the knowledge of the 1989 fire which had taken
place earlier in the Uphaar theatre. The culpability of the accused thus
clearly brings them within the four corners of Section 304 as it lies in
the knowledge that such a tragedy was possible and in fact had taken place
in 1989 in an identical manner. But rather than taking stock of the
situation they chose to carry on in the same manner as before in reckless
disregard to the consequence.

24. This shows that the appellants / respondents herein
Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal had knowledge that the
transformer located on the ground floor was dangerous
to the paying patrons visiting the cinema. This incident
clearly established that the owners/ directors / Licencee and
management were aware of

the fact that the transformers posed a potential danger of a major fire and
of the hall and balcony getting smoked up ‘chimney effect’. Inaction on
the part of A-1 and A-2 despite the pendency of case regarding suspension
of their license continued although a major fire had broken out on
06.07.1989 at 11.40 P.M. in identical circumstances when both the
transformers i.e. the transformer of the Cinema as well as the transformer
of DESU burnt and smoke reached right up to the balcony, but no step was
taken to rectify the situation. The Licence was neither revoked nor was
the matter brought to the notice of Hon’ble High Court.

FAULTY REPAIR OF THE TRANSFORMER

25. Besides the above, it has further come out in evidence led by
the CBI and referred to extensively, that the cable end socket of the B
phase of LT supply, cable of the transformer had not been fixed properly by
A-9 (B M Satija), A-10 (A.K. Gera) & A-11 (Bir Singh) of DESU. The same had
been fixed by hammering and not by crimping machine or any other proper
system as provided under BIS 1255, 1983. Thus the short circuit resulting
in the fire could have been avoided had the cables been properly repaired.
As per the Report of electrical Inspector NCT of Delhi Shri K.L. Grover
(EX. PW 24/A), the cable and socket of “B” phase of LT supply cables had
not been fixed properly as the same appeared to have been fixed by
hammering and not by the crimping machine or any other proper system. In
his deposition, he has further clarified that the LT PVC cable socket was
not crimped as required under the provision of IS Code 1255 of 1983 r/w sub
rule 2 of Rule 29 of Rule 1956. The HT circuits were not found provided
with protection system. The OCB were acting like as manual isolator and not
as OCB’s as they could not have been tripped automatically in case of
abnormal condition of supply. The 1000 KVA transformer was not having
sufficient clearances as required under IS 1886/1967. No arrangement for
draining out of transformer oil in case of damage/rapture to the
transformer was found which is mandatory as per the provision of IS
1886/1967 & IS 10028/1981.

26. As is clear from the deposition of PW48 S K Bahl (Addl Chief
Engineer DVB), the staff of the DVB were obliged to follow the BIS standard
which provided crimping for fixing of loose cables. He deposed that the
Crimping Machines are provided for the purpose of crimping the socket with
LT leads of the transformer. This was only to secure that no loose
connections are made which could give rise to high temperature resulting in
burning of leads at times. ….It was obligatory for the staff of DVB to
follow the Indian Standards & DVB Manual for both installation as well as
maintenance of substation equipment.

27. Thus the evidence adduced by the appellant CBI and referred to
in great detail in support of their appeal establishes that due to the
faulty repair of the transformer the connection of the cable end socket of
the B phase of LT supply remained loose which resulted in sparking. This
coupled with 1000 KVA current which was passing through these bus bars
led to excessive heating. This caused a cavity on the B phase
and melting of the upper portion of cable end socket. Thus the cable and
socket came out from the bolt portion and hit the radiator fin of the
transformer. The live conductor of the cable (whose insulation had melted
due to the heating) formed an opening in the radiator fin and the
transformer oil gushed out and caught fire. Reports of KV Singh EE
Electrical PWD (PW 35/A), Report of Electrical Inspector, NCT, Shri K.L.
Grover (PW 24/A), Report of Dr. Rajinder Singh (CFSL) (PW 64/B)] have been
referred to by the appellant CBI in their appeal. The above findings thus
have rightly been affirmed by the Hon’ble High Court in the impugned
judgment.

28. I have further taken note of the fact that the transformer room
was not ventilated as per the prescribed BIS Rules. (Clauses 7.3.1.1,
7.3.1.2, 7.3.1.4, 7.9.3 of the BIS rules). In fact, the open space above
the parapet behind the transformer room from where smoke could have easily
gone outside the building was closed. Instead of the parapet as reflected
in the sanctioned plan there was a full wall behind the transformer
effectively trapping the fire and the smoke within the building. The
sanctioned plan showed a parapet behind the transformer room as per PW 15-
Y/11 which is a low wall built along the edge of a roof or a floor not more
than 3ft. in height” in the Building Byelaws 1959. So the height of the
wall behind the transformer could not have been more than 3 feet according
to the sanction plan. But as is clear from the various reports there was
full fledged wall behind the transformer. The Report of MCD Engineers (Ex.
PW2/A) also states that in the rear a pucca wall marked A-B in the existing
stilt plan has been constructed in full height of building whereas this
wall in stilt floor has been shown open upto a height of 12 ft in the
sanctioned plan. This was a serious violation against the sanctioned
building plan. The same was reiterated in Report of PWD Engineers (EX
PW29/A) which states that outer wall behind HT/LT room was constructed up
to the First Floor height instead of 3ft height. In addition PW2 R.N.
Gupta (EE) MCD and PW 29 B. S.Randhawa (AE) PWD have also deposed that
outer wall behind HT transformer and LT room was found constructed upto the
first floor height instead of 3 feet height.

29. I have further noted that A9 to A11 conducted improper repair
of the DVB Transformer in the morning of 13.6.97 without the help of
crimping machine which resulted in loose fitting/connections causing
sparking in between the B Phase of the transformer, causing a hole in the
radiator fin resulting in leakage of transformer oil which caught fire on
account of the rise in the temperature due to the sparking and the improper
repairs of the transformer which is established from the Repair Report Ex
PW 108/AA, EX PW 40/C: the entry of repair, PW 40 PC Bharadwaj AE DVB & PW
44 Bhagwandeen. The contention of B. M. Satija that he was not posted in
substation zone 1601 is incorrect as is clear from Ex. PW 48 E which is a
letter from S.K. Bahl Addl. Chief Engineer to SP CBI (PW 48) dated 30.07.97
in reply to query from SP CBI. In reply to query No. 3, he clearly stated
that B.M. Satija was entrusted the work of Substation zone 1601 of Dist.
R.K. Puram. Uphaar Cinema which substation fell under jurisdiction of zone
1601, Capital work order 19.5.1997 vide (Ex PW 43/DC).

CULPABILITY OF THE SUPERVISOR OR INSPECTOR

30. In the present case, A-9 to A-11 i.e. the Inspectors and the
fitter of DVB were in charge of the maintenance of the transformer which
is a hazardous object. As electricians they should have known that by its
very nature a transformer of such high capacity stored inside a building
required proper maintenance and any lapse on their part would endanger the
life of all the occupant of the building and neighbourhood. The callous
manner of repair by these accused resulted in the outbreak of fire which
finally resulted in a mass tragedy. A-15 is the Divisional Officer with
DFS. It was his duty to inspect the building for the fire hazards and
ensure that it was a safe place for the public. The illegalities and the
violations committed by the management of the Cinema would not have been
possible without willful dereliction of duty by this accused.

31. Thus the very persons who had been deputed to keep the public
safe connived with the management to turn a blind eye to the hazards
created in the building. The conduct of this accused is nothing short of
reckless which finally led to the death of 59 persons as the transformer in
question i.e. D.V.B. Transformer did not have following safety measures at
the time of inspection:

i) The L.T. Side cables from the bus bar did not have clamping system or
any support to the cables.

ii) The earth cable of the transformer had been found temporarily fitted
with the earth strip i.e. twisting of earth cable.

iii) There was no cable trench to conceal the cable.

iv) H.T. Panel Board of transformer did not have any relay system to trip
the transformer in case of any fault.

v) The Buchholtz Relay system was not fitted on the transformer.

vi) Temperature meter was not found fitted on the transformer.

32. The physical examination of D.V.B. transformer reveals that the
cables on bus bars on L.T. side did not have check nuts. Except one lower
terminal of phase Y and neutral terminal. The check nut of neutral terminal
was found in loose condition. The blue phase single cable at the top along
with cable-end-socket (detached cable) fell down on radiator fin due to
constant arching sparking at nut bolt portion on bus bar, decoiling effect
of cable and weight of cable. All coupled together led to eating away of
metal of cable and socket resulting in U shape cable socket end. The
physical examination of D.V.B. transformer reveals that the cables on bus
bars on L.T. Side did not have check nuts. Except one lower terminal of
phase Y and neutral terminal. The check nut of neutral terminal was found
in loose condition. The blue phase single cable at the top along with cable-
end-socket (detached cable) fell down on radiator fin due to constant
arching sparking at nut bolt portion on bus bar, decoling effect of cable
and weight of cable. All coupled together led to eating away of metal of
cable and socket resulting in U shape cable socket end.

33. In fact PW 48 S K Bahl (Addl. Chief Engineer DVB) deposed that
as far as substation staff is concerned DVB has Asst. Electric Fitters/ Sr.
Electric Fitter who actually carry out the maintenance depending upon the
extent of damage caused to such equipment. The immediate officer for
getting such work done is the Junior Engineer who has specific jurisdiction
of the area as fixed by his officers. The Inspector/JE in their respective
areas were responsible for 100% check of the substation.

34. It had come in the evidence that Crimping Machines are provided
for the purpose of crimping the socket with LT leads of the transformer.
This is only to secure that no loose connections are made which could give
rise to high temperature resulting in burning of leads at times. One
transformer of 1000 KVA capacity was existing in one of the transformer
rooms at Uphaar complex which was catering to the supply of adjoining
localities of Green Park, apart from meeting part of the load of Uphaar
complex were some of the connections have been allowed. It is obligatory
for the staff of DVB to fllow the Indian Standards & DVB Manual for both
installation as well as maintenance of substation equipment.

35. PW 73 Y. P. Singh (Retd.) Member Technical DVB also deposed
that his post was the highest post on technical side in DVB. He went to
Uphaar cinema building on the day the fire incident took place and
inspected the place and he deposed that as per the sanction order crimping
machine was a major factor. Crimping machine is never kept in sub station
as a stock. It is issued to the person who has to carry on the repairs. It
is incorrect that the effect of hammer & dye is the same as that of
crimping machine. In a crimping machine the worker is in a position to put
required force while crimping the socket, while in case of dye & hammer the
force applied is always arbitrary. A.K. Gera A-10 Gera has contended that
he was assigned Zone 1603 and Uphaar was under 1601 therefore he just
accompanied Satija and Bir Singh to Uphaar and not responsible for the
repair of the Transformer. In his deposition at PW40 has clarified that the
complaint was attended to by whoever was available at the time of complaint
and not limited to the persons assigned to that zone. Zones are demarcated
for maintenance but for breakdown there is no bifurcation.

36. PW44 Bhagwan Deen Mazdor DESU deposed that on 13.6.97 he was
working as Mazdoor in DESU at Sector 6 R.K. Puram DESU. On 13.6.97 and had
accompanied B. M. Satija, Inspector A.K. Gera & Bir Singh Sr. Fitter and
went to Uphaar cinema at about 10-10.30 AM. He had taken tool box along
with him under the instruction all the three above mentioned officials.
(The witness correctly identified all the accused in the court). Bir Singh
opened the shutter of the transformer room where the DVB transformer was
installed. The socket was changed with the help dye and hammer as crimping
machine was out of order by all the three mentioned above i.e. Bir Singh,
Satija & A.K. Gera. After changing the socket the lead with socket was
connected Bus Bar. The entire repair work was finished within 45 minutes
approximately. After replacing the socket and connecting to Bus Bar the
switch was put on and thereafter electricity supply was restored.

37. In addition to the aforesaid evidence, A-15 H.S. Panwar-Delhi
Fire Service was responsible for issuing NOC from the fire safety and means
of escape point of view. Though no fire safety and means of escape was
available as per the standard laid down, in the Uphaar Cinema on the date
of inspection i.e. 12.5.97 & 15.5.97 still NOC was issued. On the basis of
this NOC, Temporary License was issued by the Licensing Authority. (Ex
31/DB & Ex 31/DC).
38. As a consequence of the aforesaid findings based on the
analysis of the evidence recorded hereinbefore, sentence of two years
awarded by the trial court in my view was not fit to be interfered with by
the High Court and for this reason the appeal preferred by the AVUT is fit
to be allowed to the extent that although the charge under Section 304 A
may not be allowed to be converted into 304 Part II by remanding the matter
for re-trial after the passage of more than 16 years, yet the sentence
may not be reduced which trivializes or minimises the gravity of offence to
a farce whereby justice to the cause appears to be a mirage, mockery or a
mere tokenism. In my considered opinion, the High Court has indulged in
misplaced sympathy by reducing the sentence of two years awarded by the
Trial Court to one year in spite of its finding upholding the charge of
gross criminal negligence under Section 304A and other allied Sections
which is grossly inadequate considering the nature and gravity of offence
committed by the appellants as also the finding that I have recorded
hereinabove due to which their conviction under Section 304 A, 337, 338
read with 36 IPC has been upheld by us. In our opinion, the extent of
the sentence of two years was thus not fit to be interfered with.

39. Nevertheless, the fact remains that 16 years have elapsed in
the process of conclusion of the trial and pendency of the appeal and the
appellant No.1 Sushil Ansal is now aged more than 74 years and even if the
appellants are subjected to undergo the maximum sentence of two years, it
can hardly be held to be sufficient so as to match with the magnitude and
gravity of offence for giving rise to the catastrophe in which 59 persons
lost their lives due to reckless and gross criminal act of negligence at
the instance of the appellants. Therefore, in an offence of this nature
which can be put some what on par with the well-known tragic incident
commonly known as ‘Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy’, compensation of high quantum
along with sentence of imprisonment may meet the ends of justice which
must be punitive, deterrent and exemplary in nature. However, in this
context, I also find force in the view taken by the High Court of Bombay in
the matter of State of Maharashtra vs. Chandra Prakash Neshavdev reported
in 1991 Cr.L.J. 3187, wherein it observed that it is an essential necessity
of public policy that accused who have committed crimes must be punished
when facts are fresh in the public mind. If for whatever reasons, the
judicial process had dragged on for an abnormal point of time and the
accused at that stage is faced with an adverse verdict, it would not be in
the interest of justice to impose at this point of time jail sentence on
the accused however serious the facts of the case are. Moreover, the
tragic incident in this matter was the consequence of a cumulative
negligence at the instance of the licensee Sushil Ansal and its executing
authority Gopal Ansal as also due to the fault in the transformer of the
Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and negligence of their employees which was not
repaired and maintained properly as discussed hereinbefore and the accused
appellants did not make a cautious and realistic attempt or used their
foresight to foresee such an incident as ultimately the aim of the
appellants Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal in Criminal Appeal Nos.597 and 598
of 2010 was to make monetary gain by running the theatre.

40. Hence, I am of the view that the interest of justice to some
extent would be served by imposing on the accused appellants a substantial
fine and not merely a jail sentence. Thus, while the sentence of one year
imposed by the High Court is upheld, the additional sentence of one year
further while allowing the appeal of AVUT, is fit to be substituted by a
substantial sum of fine to be shared equally by the appellants Sushil Ansal
and Gopal Ansal alongwith the DVB which also cannot absolve itself from
compensating the victims of Uphaar tragedy represented by the AVUT.
41. Thus, while I uphold the conviction and sentence of the
appellant No.2 Gopal Ansal in Criminal Appeal No.598 of 2010 who was in
fact conducting the business of running the Uphaar Theatre and had greater
degree of responsibility to ensure safety of the cinema viewers, the
appellant Sushil Ansal in Criminal Appeal No.597 of 2010 was primarily a
licensee who was conducting the business and running Uphaar Theatre
essentially through his brother A-2 Gopal Ansal. Hence, while the sentence
of one year awarded in Criminal Appeal No.597 of 2010 to Sushil Ansal is
fit to be upheld, the sentence already undergone by him may be treated as
sufficient in the said appeal as he has already served major part of the
sentence and in spite of dismissal of his appeal, he would at the most
serve the balance three months sentence further along with remission.

42. But while allowing the appeal of AVUT and CBI, I take note of
the fact that since Sushil Ansal is now more than 74 years old and was
running the theatre business essentially along with his brother appellant
No.2 Gopal Ansal, I consider that the period of enhanced sentence in these
appeals imposed on the appellants Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal may be
substituted with substantial amount of fine to be specified hereinafter
and paid in the appeal bearing Nos.600-602 of 2010 preferred by AVUT and
Criminal Appeal Nos.605-616 of 2010 preferred by the CBI which shall be
shared by the appellant Sushil Ansal and appellant Gopal Ansal in equal
measure along with the Delhi Vidyut Board as I have upheld the sentence
imposed on their employees too. My view stands fortified by the order
passed in the case of Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy where the punishment for
criminal negligence was allowed to be substituted by substantial
compensation which were paid to the victims or their legal representatives.

43. In view of the candid, comprehensive, unblemished findings
recorded by the trial court, High Court and upheld by us after intensive
and threadbear scrutiny of the evidence led by the prosecution as also
the accused respondents in the Criminal Appeal Nos.600-602 of 2010
preferred by the AVUT and Criminal Appeal Nos.605-616 of 2010 preferred by
the CBI, I am of the view that the appeals preferred by the AVUT and CBI
are fit to be allowed and no leniency deserves to be shown while awarding
maximum sentence prescribed under Section 304 A and other allied sections.
Nonetheless one will also have to be pragmatic and cannot ignore that the
enhancement of sentence of one year to two years to the accused cannot
bring back those who suffered and lost their lives in the tragic and the
horrific incident. Thus, while I am fully conscious and share the
intensity of the agony and deep concern of the AVUT which has diligently
prosecuted the appeal up to the highest Court, I am of the view that
the ends of justice to some extent would be met by not merely awarding
them sentence of imprisonment which I do by dismissing their appeals
against the judgment and order of the High Court by which a sentence of
one year has been awarded to all the accused, but also by enhancing their
sentence but substituting it with substantial amount of fine to be used for
the public cause in the memory of the Uphaar victims.

43. Hence, in so far as the Criminal Appeal No.600-602 of 2010
preferred by the AVUT/Victims Association and the prosecution represented
by CBI bearing Criminal Appeal Nos.605-616 of 2010 are concerned, I deem it
just and appropriate to allow both the appeals by enhancing their sentence
upto the maximum period of two years prescribed under IPC for offence under
Section 304A but in lieu of the additional period of sentence of one year,
a substantial amount of fine to be specified hereinafter is directed to
be paid by the appellants Sushil Ansal, Gopal Ansal and DVB in view of
gross negligence on the part of their employees in order to compensate the
charge of criminal negligence established against these accused persons.
Hence, the enhanced period of sentence of one year shall be substituted
by imposition of the amount of fine to be paid by them and I do so by
placing reliance on the ratio of the order passed in the well known case
of Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy wherein the entire criminal case itself had been
quashed by way of settlement against the accused and the sentence was
substituted with heavy amount of fine which was paid to the victims by way
of compensation. However, in this matter, the appellants have already
stood the test of a long drawn trial wherein they have been convicted and
sentenced which I have upheld and hence they shall undergo remaining
period of sentence imposed under Section 304A along with the fine which we
propose to impose in the appeals preferred by AVUT and CBI.

44. Therefore, for the reasons recorded hereinbefore, I am of the
view that in lieu of the enhanced sentence of a period of one year
which I allow in the appeals preferred by AVUT and CBI, the same be
substituted with a fine of Rs.100 crores (One Hundred Crores) to be shared
and paid by A-1 Sushil Ansal and A-2 Gopal Ansal in equal measure i.e. 50
crores each and 100 crores in all and shall be paid by way of a demand
draft issued in the name of the Secretary General of the Supreme Court of
India which shall be kept in a fixed deposit in any nationalised Bank and
shall be spent on the construction of a Trauma Centre to be built in the
memory of Uphaar Victims at any suitable place at Dwarka in New Delhi as
we are informed that Dwarka is an accident prone area but does not have
any governmental infrastructure or public health care centre to treat
accident victims. For this purpose, the State of Delhi as DVB which
is/was an instrumentality of the State, shall allot at least five acres of
land or more at any suitable location at Dwarka within a period of four
months of this judgment and order on which a trauma centre for accident
victims alongwith a super speciality department/ ward for burn injuries
shall be constructed to be known as the ‘Victims of Uphaar Memorial Trauma
Centre’ or any other name that may be suggested by the AVUT/Uphaar
Victims Association. This trauma centre shall be treated as an
extension centre of the Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi which is close to
Uphaar Theatre and was the accident site which is hard pressed for space
and desperately needs expansion considering the enormous number of patients
who go there for treatment. The trauma centre to be built at Dwarka
shall be treated as an extension centre of the Safdarjung Hospital to be
constructed by the respondent accused Sushil Ansal and respondent accused
Gopal Ansal under the supervision of the Building Committee to be
constituted which shall include Secretary General of the Supreme Court,
Registrar Administration of the Supreme Court alongwith a representative of
the AVUT nominated by the Association and the Hospital Superintendent,
Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi within a period of two years from the date
of allotment of the plot of land by the State of Delhi which shall be run
and administered by the authorities of the Safdarjung Hospital
Administration as its extension centre for accident victims.

45. In case, the accused appellants/respondents herein Sushil
Ansal and Gopal Ansal fails to deposit the fine as ordered, the land
alongwith Uphaar Theatre which is the accident site and is still existing
at Green Park and has been seized shall be put to public auction under the
supervision of the Building Committee referred to hereinbefore and the
proceeds thereof shall be spent for constructing the Trauma Centre. It
will be open for the Building Committee and/or the AVUT in particular to
seek such other or further direction from this Court as and when the
necessity arises in regard to the construction operation and administration
of the Trauma Centre. The appeals bearing Criminal Appeal Nos.600 to 602
of 2010 preferred by AVUT and the appeal preferred by the CBI bearing
Criminal Appeal Nos.605 to 616 of 2010 thus stand allowed in terms of the
aforesaid order and direction.

46. In so far as the other connected Criminal Appeals are
concerned, I respectfully agree and affirm the judgment and order passed by
Hon’ble Thakur, J. Thus, the appeals bearing Nos.597 and 598 of 2010
preferred by the appellants/respondents Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal are
dismissed except that the sentence imposed on the appellant No.1 Sushil
Ansal is reduced to the period already undergone considering his advanced
age. The other appeals preferred by the officers of DVB bearing Nos.617 to
627 of 2010 and 604 of 2010 and the employee of Fire Service bearing Appeal
Nos.599 of 2010 are also dismissed as already ordered by Hon’ble Thakur, J.
with which I agree. Consequently, the appellants shall surrender to
serve out the remaining part of their sentence and in view of the
appeals of AVUT and CBI bearing Appeal Nos.600 to 602 of 2010 and 605 to
616 of 2010 having been allowed, who are the respondents Sushil Ansal and
Gopal Ansal in the appeals preferred by AVUT and the CBI, shall deposit the
amount of fine imposed hereinbefore expeditiously but not later than a
period of three months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment
and order.
…………………………J

(Gyan Sudha Misra)

New Delhi,

March 05 , 2014

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICITION

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.597 OF 2010

Sushil Ansal …Appellant

Versus

State Through CBI …Respondent

(With Crl. Appeals No.598/2010, 599/2010, 600-602/2010, 604/2010, 605-
616/2010 and 617-627/2010)

ORDER BY THE COURT

In the light of separate opinions delivered by us in the above-
mentioned matters, we pass the following order:

(1) Criminal Appeal No.617 of 2010 (wrongly numbered as Criminal Appeals
No.617-627/2010) filed by B.M Satija, Inspector DVB and Criminal Appeal
No.604 of 2010 filed by Bir Singh, Senior Fitter, DVB are partly allowed
and their convictions altered to Sections 337 and 338 read with Section 36
of the IPC. The sentence awarded to them shall, however, remain unaltered.
(2) Criminal Appeals No.597, 598 and 599 of 2010 filed by Sushil Ansal,
Gopal Ansal and Harsarup Panwar respectively in so far as the same
assail/challenge the conviction of the appellants for offences punishable
under Section 304A read with Section 36 of the IPC and Sections 337 and 338
read with Section 36 of the IPC shall stand dismissed and their conviction
affirmed.

(3) Criminal Appeals No.607 to 612 and 614 to 616 of 2010 filed by the
CBI challenging the orders of acquittal of the respondents in those appeals
shall stand dismissed.

(4) Criminal Appeals No.597, 598 and 599 of 2010 filed by the appellants
in those appeals and Criminal Appeals No.605, 606 and 613 of 2010 filed by
the State and Criminal Appeals No.600-602 of 2010 filed by the Association
of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy to the extent the said appeals involve the
question of quantum of sentence to be awarded to the convicted appellants
in the appeals mentioned above shall stand referred to a three-Judge Bench.

Registry to place the papers before Hon’ble the Chief Justice for
constitution of an appropriate Bench.
.………………….……….…..…J.
(T.S. THAKUR)

………..…………………..…..…J.
(GYAN SUDHA MISRA)
New Delhi
March 5, 2014

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