Seventeen years after the Uphaar tragedy, the five-storey building in Green Park market, which housed the cinema hall, is still shut and the once-bustling area now wears a desolate look. But on Wednesday, people could be heard recalling the tragedy after the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the Ansal brothers.
In all, 59 people died and 103 sustained injuries in the fire that broke out during the screening of Border in the theatre on June 13, 1997. Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost both her children in the fire, has fought a long battle for justice. “It is a wonder… in a case that should have been an open-and-shut matter, it took us 17 years just to prove that the Ansal Group, who owned the property, was responsible for obvious lapses in building safety. Now, I don’t know how much longer it will take us to get the sentence, and fix responsibility on other authorities who had given NOC to the building,” she said.
Krishnamoorthy still remembers the day when her children — aged 17 and 13 — went to watch the movie, her daughter calling out to her that they would return by 7.30 pm. “That day, I lost faith in God… I would wake up many nights with nightmares of my children suffocating to death. Now, it’s been over 5,000 days, my children’s friends have grown up, and have children of their own… I wonder at the good fortune of other mothers sometimes to see their children lead successful and happy lives… and look at me, I am still struggling to ensure my children get justice,” she said.
Krishnamoorthy has led an association of victims’ families, a group she says came together, united by their grief and the loss they suffered. “We realised we had to come together to be strong and motivate each other on this long and tough battle, while we were still struggling to accept what we had lost,” she said.
“The matter has now been referred to a larger bench for consideration. I hope the owners will get at least a minimum sentence of two years… but for the time being we have some satisfaction by the fact that this is the first time in independent India a corporate giant has been held responsible for a mass tragedy… at the level of the SC. We hope if nothing else, this will bring some accountability…,” she said.
Only a single takeaway joint operates outside the once-bustling building. The building — Uphaar still written on it — is under lock and key, and a number of small shops that once operated around it have also been shut.
The proprietor of the takeaway joint said, “On every anniversary (of the tragedy) and every court verdict, people turn up with questions, asking us to recall the horrible incident. None of us were here then, but we tell them the stories we have heard.”
A parking lot employee at the Green Park market recalled how the building buzzed with activity when he was growing up. “Young people would come here, there were shops outside and around the building. The parking lot was right in front of it… now its tough to remember those days…,” he said.