Families await justice in 11-year-old Uphaar fire tragedy

June 12th, 2008 - 7:04 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) The 28 families of the 59 people who died in the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy await justice even as the case became 11-years-old Friday. “We are still away from justice,” said Neelam Krishnamurthy, convener of the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) who has stood firm all these years against the high-profile real estate owners of the cinema hall.

A city court has convicted all the 12 accused, including real estate tycoons Sushil and Gopal Ansal, and held them guilty of gross negligence. The court sentenced them to two years of imprisonment.

They are now on bail.

The appeal challenging their conviction is pending in the Delhi High court.

“Our system is really shocking. I don’t understand why our legal system is so weak,” lamented Krishnamurthy.

The victims’ kin, who had struggled for justice for 11 long years, are disappointed.

“The Ansals had full knowledge of the lapses in the cinema hall and those provisions of law which invite life imprisonment should have been invoked against them,” said Krishnamurthy, who lost her two children Ujwal and Unnati.

Dubbing the conviction as a “mockery of justice”, she said: “You give a death sentence for killing one person and for killing 59 people how could you give two years? That is something I cannot understand.”

Nanak Chand, who lost a son in the Uphaar cinema tragedy, recalled the fateful day when his son went to the hall to watch the movie. “I have lost my elder son in the tragedy and the other son in a road accident in 2003. I have fought for justice for 11 years for my elder son and now I will fight for another 11 years or so for my younger son.”

To commemorate the 11th anniversary of the tragedy, AVUT is holding a `havan’ and `shanti path’ near the cinema hall.

The Ansal brothers during the course of the trial had tried to delay the hearing by moving the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court on several legal counts, including the compensation to be given to the victims’ families.

The trial was expedited after the High Court directed that it should be concluded by August 2007.

Gopal and Sushil Ansal, the owners of Uphaar cinema in south Delhi who are one of the country’s biggest real estate developers, were convicted under Section 304 A (causing death by negligence) of the Indian Penal Code, which invites a maximum punishment of two years in jail.

Civic officials Shyam Sunder Sharma and N.D. Tiwari and Delhi Fire Service officer H.S. Panwar were also found guilty under the same section.

The remaining accused - Radha Krishan Sharma, Nirmal Singh Chopra, Ajit Chaudhary, Manmohan Uniyal, Brij Mohan, Anand Kumar Gera and Vir Singh - were convicted under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) read with Section 36.

The case pertains to the tragedy that occurred June 13, 1997 when a fire broke out at the south Delhi cinema hall during a screening of the film “Border”.

A transformer installed in the basement of the theatre had caught fire and all those who died were asphyxiated as the exit doors got jammed.

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