A dejected Neelam Krishnamurty, the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) convenor, broke down outside the Delhi High Court on Friday after the judge reduced the jail term for Gopal and Sushil Ansal to one year each despite upholding their conviction for criminal negligence leading to the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire that claimed 59 lives.
“For the 4,206 days (11 and a half years) that the victim families have fought this battle, we get six days each for each kid that died? I am shocked. People should no longer approach courts for justice,” Krishnamurthy said as she emerged distraught from the court.
Neelam, who lost her two children in the tragedy, is the founder of AVUT.
On the afternoon of June 13, 1997, 59 people, including several women and children, were asphyxiated in the fire that broke out in the south Delhi cinema hall's transformer in the basement during the screening of the Hindi film "Border".
The Delhi High Court on Friday upheld the trial court verdict holding the Ansal brothers guilty of criminal negligence that led to the fire in the cinema hall that they owned but reduced their jail term from two years to one year each.
Ironically, the AVUT was hoping that the court would extend the punishment for the Ansal brothers.
The court also acquitted five people, including Uphaar managers Nirmal Chopra and R.K. Sharma, Delhi Vidyut Board official A K Gera and Municipal Corporation of Delhi officials S S Sharma and N D Tiwari.
“I am completely disillusioned and disappointed. Victims are silent spectators. There is no value of common man's child. The common man's child is no longer safe, and if they die so be it. Let them know that there will be no justice,” said Krishnamurthy, whose eyes were brimming with tears.
Drawing comparison with the action taken by the government after the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attack, she said: “Some 200 people died in the Mumbai terror attacks - laws and policies were changed within days. Remember 100 people died in a Kumbakonam school in a fire accident also and 59 people choked because of negligence and they get off so easy?"
“No one has taken care to look at the state of fire safety. The country has ignored that it was the emergency exit that saved so many lives in the Taj and Oberoi hotels. The staff helped the people. Unlike in Uphaar, where the staff was busy removing cars and money from the theatre.”
“In the CST station too, so many people owe their lives to the public announcement system. In Uphaar, there was a single exit - that too was blocked for accommodating extra seats by the Ansals for the sake of their profit,” she added.
“The court sited old age and the fact that Ansals have a good social background for reducing their term. Tihar jail is full of old people - let them out. Let the jails be vacated," said Krishnamurthy angrily.
“In the court, they (Ansals) were in complete control - this is how they were improving their social status - let them go around killing people now, what will stop them! It has pained us a lot,” Krishnamurthy said.
Asked if the association will now appeal in the Supreme Court against the judgment, she said: “I will see if it is worth it or not to appeal further, it has not sunk in yet. I need time to myself. I really don't know where to go from in New Delhi.”