Nearly 18 years after 59 cinegoers died of asphyxia in the massive fire that engulfed the Uphaar theatre in New Delhi, victims’ families are still waiting for judicial closure of the case.
A bench of justices T S Thakur and Gyan Sudha Mishra (since retired), on March 5, 2014, had held real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal guilty, but had differed on quantum of sentence to be awarded to them.
It had concurred in finding that there was contemptuous disregard of civic laws on the part of Ansals that led to the tragedy as they were more interested in making money than ensuring safety of people.
Justice Thakur concurred with the 2008 verdict of the Delhi High Court that had awarded one year jail terms to Sushil and Gopal Ansal.
However, Justice Mishra reduced the jail term of Sushil considering his age and enhanced the sentence of Gopal to two years.
After that a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu has to hear afresh and authoritatively decide the case.
The matter came up for hearing on April 21, but was adjourned at the request of senior advocate L Nageshwar Rao, the counsel for Ansals.
“Now we are worried about how many more adjournments they will seek before the matter is actually heard and the victims get the judicial closure,” said Neelam Krishnamoorthy, President of Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT).
“Since the matter was not being listed, AVUT had filed three applications for early hearing. Finally, on January 22, the Chief Justice gave directions for listing the criminal appeal in April 2015,” she said.
The apex court has been hearing cross-appeals filed by CBI, AVUT and the Ansals challenging the Delhi High Court order.
Fifty-nine people, trapped in the balcony of the theatre, died of asphyxia following the fire and over 100 people got injured in subsequent stampede on June 13, 1997 during the screening of “Border” movie.
The Ansals had challenged their conviction and had maintained they were in no way responsible for the incident as the fire mishap they claimed was on account of the DVB transformer.
The CBI had filed the appeal challenging the alteration in conviction and reduction of sentence by the Delhi High Court on December 19, 2008. The sentence for the Ansals was reduced to one year as against the twoyear sentence imposed by the sessions court.
AVUT had also approached the apex court seeking enhancement of sentence to the Ansals.