Neelam Krishnamoorthy has been counting days for the past 18 years. Wheels of justice have been grinding slow since the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire tragedy that killed her teenage son and 18-year-old daughter.
Eighteen years after the fire, the Supreme Court (SC) last year found the owners of the cinema guilty of causing 59 deaths due to negligence. Over 100 others were injured.
But legal deliberations continue. Amid allegations of tampering evidence, the Delhi High Court found the cinema’s owner-brothers Sushil and Gopal Ansal guilty of negligence in 2003 and ordered them to compensate the relatives of victims Rs 25 crore.
The brothers moved the apex court, which upheld the HC sentence but halved the compensation amount and is now deliberating on the quantum of sentence to be awarded. The bench of justice TS Thakur and justice Gyan Sudha Mishra (since retired), referred the question of quantum of sentence for the brothers to a larger bench.
The Ansal group, owned by the brothers, is among the biggest real estate and housing developers in the country. Meanwhile, the nine-year-old evidence tampering case against the brothers is pending before the Patiala House Courts Complex chief metropolitan magistrate Sanjay Khanangal.
56-year-old Krishnamoorthy has been attending proceedings, and filing motions to expedite the matter. She has been patiently awaiting a closure to the case.
Krishnamoorthy is president of Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), which brings together survivors and relatives of those who died in the fire. On June 13, the AVUT held a prayer meeting marking 18 years since they lost their loved ones. Their demands haven’t changed in 18 years—that the case be expeditiously decided by SC and a hearing in the evidence tampering case.
“Members of the association hope that the larger bench of SC would consider the enormity of the tragedy before deciding on the quantum of sentence. It is very evident from the apex court’s findings that 59 invaluable lives were snuffed out because the owners of Uphaar wanted to make extra money rather than ensuring the safety of their patrons,” AVUT said.
Among the dead in the fire were 23 children. Victims died of suffocation, medical reports concluded. Investigations revealed that one of the fire exits was blocked to accommodate extra seats trapping people inside.