Capital counts its dead as blaze rips through a theatre

Updated on Jun 11, 2022 01:01 AM IST

The tragic death of more than 50 people due to asphyxiation at the Uphaar Cinema in Green Park remains unparalleled as far as the number of deaths due to negligence is concerned after the stampede in Qutab Minar on December 4, 1981.

13 June 1997 - Uphaar Fire Story - HT Photo by Prakash Singh.
13 June 1997 - Uphaar Fire Story - HT Photo by Prakash Singh.
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The tragic death of more than 50 people due to asphyxiation at the Uphaar Cinema in Green Park remains unparalleled as far as the number of deaths due to negligence is concerned after the stampede in Qutab Minar on December 4, 1981.

Most of the dead and the injured were brought to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Safdarjung Hospital, as these were closest to the site of the tragedy. Some people were also taken to the Lohia and LNJP Hospitals.

As the news of the tragedy spread in the city, anxious families rushed to the hospitals to enquire about their relatives. For many, this rush proved to be futile as there was very little information available. For some others, the search landed them in the mortuary of AIIMS and Safdarjung, where their relatives lay motionless.

Forty-year-old Radheshyam had gone to the theatre to watch “Border” with his 16-year-old son. While he managed to escape with minor injuries, his teenage son could not escape. He was brought dead to AIIMS. Heart rendering cries of the man echoed at the entrance of the casualty ward of AIIMS as police personnel rushed his son into the hospital.

Pramod Kumar had gone to see the film with three of his friends. He managed to escape the toxic fumes along with another friend, while two others were untraceable, their anxious relative shuttling between AIIMS and Safdarjung.

Recalling the incident, Pramod said that soon after interval, a fire broke out and the theatre was filled with smoke. With electricity also snapped, the audience struggled in complete darkness as they tried to locate exit doors.

Pramod recalled jumping from the balcony after breaking a window pane, and breaking his leg in the process.

At the time of going to press, 41 people had died at AIIMS. This included 12 children, 12 men, 16 women and an infant. The bodies lined the corridors of the out-patients department at AIIMS.

The postmortem examinations of the dead were waived at the intervention of the Delhi Lt Governor and the relatives were allowed to take the bodies.

Meanwhile, policemen and the hospital security staff struggled to keep the visitors in check. The hospital staff and the cops at duty showed urgency and the patients were rushed as soon as the ambulances and the PCR Gypsies brought them to the casualty wards. Soon, the number soared to an unmanageable extent and the less injured were discharged after first aid, while the dead were moved to the lobby of the OPD.

Heart-rending cries gripped Safdarjung hospital as well, with people searching the halls for their relatives.

Eighteen people were brought dead and many others were being administered oxygen. Both police personnel and hospital staff were unable to give any details about the number of people who have been admitted.

“When he left home today he was so excited. How will I face his parents now?” cried a student who was at the theatre with a friend.

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