The Delhi High Court has questioned the issuance of F-token to real estate baron Sushil Ansal, convicted for the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire incident that claimed 59 lives, for getting a short validity passport, saying how a convict in a multiple culpable homicide case could be treated as a VVIP. Justice Najmi Waziri made this observation as F-tokens are only issued to very very important persons (VVIP) for issuance of a passport.
"It is argued that on July 22, 2018, a short validity passport was issued on the basis of an F-token issued to the applicant. The F-token is issued only for VVIP persons. It is a matter of wonder as to how a convict in a multiple culpable homicide case could still be treated or classified as a VVIP to avail priority benefits before the Regional Passport Officer, New Delhi.
"At whose behest or recommendation, if any, was the said F-token issued to him, remains unanswered," the court said after going through an inquiry report filed by the Ministry for External Affairs (MEA) on how Ansal's application in May last year for a passport was moved from pre-verification to post-verification mode.
The court also termed as "inexplicable" how the pre-verification status was changed to post-verification and the 'stop' put on his passport application was also cleared, despite two adverse reports sent by Delhi Police regarding him to the Regional Passport Office.
When there was such a clear communication on record from the end of the police, "there was no question of the verification being changed from pre-verification to post-verification because the passport office had full knowledge of the facts of the case", the court said.
The observations were made after senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, appearing for the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) represented through its chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy, said the MEA inquiry report does not address on what and at whose instructions was the pre-verification status changed to post-verification despite adverse police reports.
The court in its order also noted that the lawyer for the ministry had intimated the Investigating Officer (IO) that if any further information was required, it shall be sent by e-mail or telephone.
"Despite the clear communication by the standing counsel for central government to the police officer and the acknowledgement of the same by the latter, six months have gone by but the investigation has not progressed any further.
"The status report is silent about the steps taken by the IO on the specific dates. In the circumstances, it is expected that a status report with better particulars shall be filed," it said.
The government's lawyer also told the court that in terms of its observations the matter of change of verification mode would be looked into afresh. Taking note of the submission by the government lawyer, the court listed the matter for further hearing on September 26.
The court had on December 17 last year directed the agency to lodge an FIR in connection with Ansal getting a favourable verification report in 2013 when he applied for a fresh passport. Delhi Police had, thereafter, lodged an FIR against Ansal and the police officers who had given the favourable verification report.
Krishnamoorthy, who lost her two children in the tragedy, in the plea has sought a CBI probe into the alleged criminal misconduct by passport and police officials in issuing the travel document to Ansal. She has been fighting a legal battle on behalf of the victims' families for over 20 years now.
A fire at Uphaar Cinema during the screening of Hindi film 'Border' on June 13, 1997 had killed 59 people. The apex court in 2017 had asked Gopal Ansal, who was also convicted in the case, to undergo the remaining of one-year jail term in the case, while his elder brother Sushil Ansal got relief from incarceration with a prison term already undergone by him in view of age-related complications.