Nineteen years on, families of Uphaar fire tragedy wait for justice

  • Satya Prakash, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2016 07:40 IST
Hansraj, 74, who lost five family members in the Uphaar fire, during a prayer meeting on the 13th Anniversary the tragedy in 2010. (Vipin Kumar/HT File Photo)

Nineteen years after 59 people were killed in the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy in the Capital, the families of victims continue their quest for justice.

“We are still waiting for the Supreme Court to take up our petition seeking review of its decision to let off accused Gopal and Sushil Ansal on payment of a fine of R30 crore each in lieu of a jail term,” president of President Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) Neelam Krishnamoorthy told HT.

“We filed the review petition in October last year against the court’s August 19, 2015, verdict. In January this year the court agreed to give us an open court hearing. But the case has not been taken up despite our advocates mentioning it twice in March and April for an urgent hearing,” said Krishnamoorthy who lost both her children in the fire.

The tragedy dates back to June 13, 1997 when a fire broke out at Uphaar Cinema in Green Park area during the screening of Bollywood blockbuster ‘Border’. Fifty nine people died and over 100 were injured due to suffocation in the ensuing stampede as the escape routes were blocked by illegally fixed extra chairs.

In November 2007, a trial court had sentenced the Uphaar owners – the Ansal brothers — to two-year rigorous imprisonment. But in December 2008, the Delhi High Court reduced their sentence to one-year jail term. While Sushil Ansal spent 5 months and 20 days in jail, Gopal remained in jail for four months and 20 days.

On August 19, 2015, the SC upheld the brothers’ conviction in the case. However, considering their age and the period already spent by them in prison, it decided not to send them back to jail. It asked the duo to pay a fine of R30 crore each in lieu of a jail term.

The money — to be used for constructing a trauma centre in the capital as ordered by the top court — has already been deposited by the Ansals with the Delhi government in November last year.

Read more: Uphaar fire: SC to hear review petitions against Ansals’ conviction

Terming the SC’s order as “shocking”, AVUT requested the court to review its decision. Contending that the sentence awarded to the brothers was inadequate and against the principles of natural justice, the CBI and AVUT — both had demanded an open court hearing

A bench of Justices AR Dave, Kurien Joseph and AK Goel in January decided to hold a hearing in open court on review petitions of the CBI and AVUT.

The CBI said while letting off the accused with mere fine, the court did not consider several aspects dealt with by the bench which had convicted the Ansals.

They asked how can such lenient view be taken after the SC had earlier noted that “contemptuous disregard of civic law (in the tragedy) was glaring” and “cinema owners were more interested in making money than ensuring safety of the public.”

In its review petition, AVUT said: “The sentences imposed on the convicts, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, have been substituted with fine without assigning any reason or basis thereof. The sentences of the said convicts have been reduced to the period undergone without taking into account the gravity of their offence. The orders under review run contrary to the well established jurisprudence of the principles of sentencing as followed so meticulously by this Hon’ble Court”, noted AVUT’s plea.

“There are manifest errors apparent on record in the impugned judgments which deserves being reviewed”, the plea added.

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