For those who have waited ten long years for justice, waiting for a few more months hardly makes a difference. What does matter is that the guilty are punished within a reasonable time frame. There is no doubt that a crime was committed inside the Uphaar cinema in Delhi on June 13, 1997. There is no doubt that 59 people died of asphyxiation when fire broke out inside the cinema. There is also no doubt that the transformer which caught fire at the ground floor of the building had no business being there. What is in doubt — in the court of law — is the identity of those responsible for the Uphaar tragedy. It must have been upsetting for the Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy and all others seeking justice against the callous death of fellow citizens to hear the court postponing the verdict and stating that it will announce the date of judgment on October 22. But it is absolutely necessary that the prosecution does not end up losing its way in the labyrinthine and voluminous documents that have been piling up before the courts since the CBI filed a chargesheet in November 1997.
Having said that, one does, however, wonder why a full decade after the tragedy, the courts have not taken pains to prioritise the trial. If nothing else, a closure would bring relief to the families of the victims. A petition by the
Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy had been accepted. The Delhi High Court had directed the court in April 2002 to conclude the trial by December 15, 2002. Couldn’t the evidence that was gathered over the next few years, bringing into the picture officials of the Delhi Vidyut Board, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi Fire Service, and their possible roles in bending rules and providing no-objection certificates and licences without any proper inspection done have been done in a less lethargic manner?
While the need to ensure that justice is delivered and no loophole is left for the guilty to wriggle out of, it is also necessary to not use this as an excuse to drag things out. The issue of compensation, for instance, lies in limbo with the courts, despite the April 2003 High Court order that Rs 18 crore be paid to the families of the deceased. The Uphaar verdict should now ensure that nobody can take the line that, with no one found guilty of the crime committed on June 13, 1997, there can be no guilt in such future ‘accidents’. We have waited for ten years and more. We will patiently wait till the day after Dussehra to ensure that there is a serious deterrent in place so that other Uphaars are never allowed to happen.