Fourteen years after losing their loved ones, families of victims of the Uphaar theatre fire got a shock on Thursday when the Supreme Court drastically reduced the compensation awarded to them by the Delhi high court in 2003.
Fifty-nine people died of asphyxiation and 103 were injured when smoke billowed from the air-conditioning ducts during the screening of Hindi blockbuster Border on June 13, 1997.
Those who died or were injured were in the balcony and could not escape because the doors were bolted from the outside.Neelam Krishnamurthy, who lost both her children in the tragedy and has been fighting a legal battle for the victims, said, "Our fight was not about money. We wanted people to get safer public places and the only way to do this was by putting pressure on corporates. The corporates are being benefited by such judgments. So, many more Uphaars will happen."
A bench of justice RV Raveendran and justice KS Radhakrishnan, which issued a slew of guidelines for theatre owners and government authorities for safe screening of films, also slashed punitive damages imposed by the high court on the Uphaar cinema owners, brothers Gopal Ansal and Sushil Ansal, from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 25 lakh.
The high court had ordered that the punitive damages be paid to the central government as the owners' share for setting up a trauma centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at a total cost of Rs 55 crore.
The reasons for reducing the compensation were not clear as the judgment was not released on the SC's website. The high court had directed the company to pay 55% of the compensation while the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and Delhi Police were to pay 15% each for failing to fulfill their statutory obligations.
The apex court has, however, absolved the MCD and Delhi Police of any liability for the tragedy and increased the compensation payable by the Ansals to 85% instead of the 55% fixed by the high court eight years ago.
Upholding the right of victims' families to get damages from the Uphaar owners - Ansal Theatre and Clubhotels (P) Ltd - the bench said the family of a victim aged above 20 would get Rs 10 lakh instead of the Rs 18 lakh fixed by the high court. For the families of victims below 20 years, the compensation was reduced from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 7.5 lakh.
However, the compensation of Rs 1 lakh for the injured would remain unchanged.