Court Judgements from April 2003 – Excerpts

What follows are excerpts from the judgements made on April 24, 2003, regarding the case and the continuing saga of Uphaar victims and their quest for justice…

EXCERPTS FROM THE JUDGEMENT DATED 24.04.2003 IN CWP 4567/1997

Assn.of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy and Ors.
Vs.
Respondent: Union of India (UOI) and Ors.

AND

Appellants: Common Cause
Vs.
Respondent: Govt. of NCT of Delhi and Ors.

 

Hon’ble Judges:
S.K. Mahajan and Mukul Mudgal, JJ.

JUDGMENT

S.K. Mahajan, J.

1. In the posh area of south Delhi in Green Park is located the Uphaar Cinema. Though it was constructed sometimes in 1973, however, after renovation in 1996/97, the first film released in this theatre on Friday, the 13th June, 1997 was “BORDER”. The film had a patriotic fervor and was based on the 1971 Indo-Pak war. During the matinee show of the film, immediately after the interval, the audience in the cinema hall saw smoke coming out of the side of the screen. Most of the patrons sitting in the hall thought it was some special effect which was a part of the film realising little that a fire had broken out in the cinema building. By the time they realised that the smoke had engulfed the hall because of the fire in the building it was too late for many of them to leave the balcony. The entire balcony area and the stairs leading to the balcony were so full of smoke that it had became impossible for many of the patrons to go out of the building and as a result thereof 59 people, which included infants and children, lost their lives because of asphyxiation and about 103 other persons sustained injuries. Immediately after the incident of fire, the Lieutenant Governor vide order dated 14th June, 1997 ordered an enquiry into the incident and appointed Mr.Naresh Kumar, Deputy Commissioner (South), Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi to conduct the enquiry with the following terms of reference :-

i) To look into the cause(s) and circumstances leading to fire;

ii) To examine whether the Uphaar Cinema had the necessary clearances/ NOCs/licenses from various agencies/statutory authorities. If not, to fix responsibility for lapses of the agencies;

iii) To suggest measures to prevent such incidents in future;

iv) Any other fact(s) relevant to the incident.

2. The Deputy Commissioner after recording the statement of witnesses and examining the documents submitted his report which will hereafter be referred to as the “Naresh Kumar Enquiry Report”.

3. This petition has been filed by the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy. The members of the Association, we are informed, are either those who were injured in the fire or are relatives of those who were injured or killed in the fire. By this writ petition, besides claiming compensation, the petitioners have also tried to highlight the alleged shocking state of affairs existing in the cinema building and wholly inadequate safety arrangements made therein. The claim of the petitioners is that there was complete disregard of the statutory obligations prescribed under the law for prevention of fire hazards in public places. The grievance of the petitioners is that each and every public authority, not only failed in the discharge of its statutory obligations, but in fact acted in a manner which was hostile and foreign to the discharge of their public duties. The standards set under the statute and the rules framed for the purpose of preventing public hazards were observed only in their breach. License and permits were issued in complete disregard of the mandatory conditions of inspection and ensuring that the minimum safeguards were provided on the ground. Scores of cinema halls were and are permitted to run without any inspection and without any license. Permits are issued mechanically and perhaps, for a price. The petitioners, therefore, seek adequate compensation for the victims and punitive damages against the respondents for showing callous disregard to their statutory obligations and to the fundamental and indefeasible rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, of the paying public, in failing to provide safe premises, free from hazards, that could reasonably be foreseen. The petitioners in the writ petition, as already mentioned above, besides claiming compensation have also sought for certain other reliefs as under:-

A. Direct the respondents jointly and/or severally to produce all the records of F.I.R. No.432 dated 13.6.97, P.S. Hauz Khas, New Delhi before this Hon’ble Court and on the basis of the same, this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to monitor the investigation from time to time, to ensure that no person guilty of any of the offences is able to escape the clutches of law and that the investigation is carried out as expeditiously as possible in a free and fair manner.

B. direct the respondent No.1 to ensure that no cinema hall in the country is allowed to run without license granted after strictly observing all the mandatory conditions prescribed under the laws and to further direct them to stop the operation of all cinema halls and to permit the operation only after verification of the existence of a valid license/permit by the licensing authority, under the Cinematograph Act.

C. award damages against the respondents, jointly and severally, to the petitioners including all victims who lost their lives, the names and particulars of which, are given in Annexure B, through petitioner No.1, a sum of Rs.11.8 crores (Rupees Eleven Crores and Eighty Lakhs Only) with the direction to equally distribute the same to the first degree heirs of all the victims evenly or in such manner as may be considered just and proper, by this Hon’ble Court.

D. award damages against the respondents, jointly and severally, to the tune of Rs.10.3 crores (Rupees Ten Crores and Thirty Lakhs Only) to the injured whose names and addresses are mentioned in Annexure C, to be distributed evenly or in such manner as may be considered just and proper, by this Hon’ble Court.

E. award punitive damages against the respondents to pay a sum of Rs.100 crores, jointly and severally, to petitioner No.1 for the purpose of setting up and augmenting the Centralised Accident and Trauma Services and other allied services in the city of Delhi. Petitioner No.1 may be directed to create a fund for the purpose and submit a detailed report to this Hon’ble Court in accordance with which the said services will be set-up under the supervision of this Hon’ble Court.

F. pass such other order/orders as this Hon’ble Court may deem fit and proper in the facts and circumstances of this case.

4. Since the police after registration of FIR has already filed a charge sheet before the competent Court and the trial, we are informed, is going on, the petitioners have not pressed relief (A) claimed in the petition.

5. The respondents had taken a preliminary objection to the maintainability of the writ petition on the ground that the same involved disputed questions of facts and that the writ petition was not the appropriate proceeding for deciding the causation and responsibility for the unfortunate incident. By a detailed judgment dated 21st February, 2000, this Court has held that it could not be said that the petition was not maintainable. By the same order, this Court has also held that the petition against respondents 14, 17 and 19 to 21 was not maintainable, as they had no nexus. We have now heard learned counsel for the parties on the question of their individual negligence, role assigned to them in the causation of fire, extent of their responsibilities in preventing the fire and extent of their liability to pay compensation, if it was ultimately held that the respondents were jointly and/or severally responsible for complete disregard of their statutory obligations for preventing the fire hazards in pubic places.

6. On behalf of private respondents, namely, the owners of the theater, it was argued, as was also argued prior to the delivery of the judgment dated 21st February, 2000 by this Court, that this petition was not maintainable as disputed questions of facts were involved in the case and the remedy available to the petitioner was to file a suit for compensation in which all these questions can be decided after the parties are permitted to lead evidence in the matter. Dr.Dhawan appearing on behalf of the private respondents has relied upon the observations of the Supreme Court in its judgment dated 17th August, 2001 in SLP©.No.10288/2000 filed against the order of this Court dated 21st February, 2000 to contend that even after the judgment of this Court, the Supreme Court had granted them liberty to raise this question again. We are afraid, no such observation is made by the Supreme Court in its order dated 17th August, 2001 passed in the aforesaid matter. Dealing with the contention of the private respondents that they had an apprehension that the High Court might adopt some procedure of appointing a commission to gather certain facts which, by itself, may not be sufficient to dispose of the matter and that the commission appointed would only to report whether the rules and regulations are complied with therein or not and not, the Supreme Court observed that whatever be the apprehension of the counsel, they could very well be pointed out to the High Court and address their arguments as to the manner in which a dispute of this nature could be resorted satisfactorily and as and when such arguments are raised, the High Court would consider them appropriately and the Supreme Court did not, therefore, find any justification to interfere with the order made by the High Court. It is thus clear that the Supreme Court has not interfered with the observations of this Court that a writ petition for claiming compensation under public law was maintainable.

It is thus clear that most of the violations which existed in the cinema hall and due to which the licence was suspended for a period of four days in 1983 existed even up to the date of unfortunate incident of fire. In these objections mentioned by the D.C.P. (Licensing) in his affidavit of 1st August, 1996 the violations about the closure of the vertical gangway by the side of the wall, reducing the width of the gangways, closure of the exit on the rear side of the balcony, etc. were not pointed out, perhaps for the reasons that they were approved by the D.C.P. (Licensing) himself. The authorities had closed their eyes to the violation of rules and regulations existing in the theatre. We are, therefore, clearly of the view that scant respect had been shown to the adherence of the safety regulations. Safety of the patrons appears to be the last item in the agenda of the management of the cinema and every effort was made by the owners of the cinema to add as many seats as possible so as to earn more profit. With a view not to influence the criminal trial going on against certain persons, we are not, at this stage, suggesting that there was any connivance or collusion between the owners of the cinema and the licensing authority permitting the owners to add those seats and close the rear right side exit of the balcony. However, it appears to us that the authorities were definitely not strict and vigilant in compliance of the regulations meant for the safety of the patrons. We are of the view that had the right side rear exit been open and the right side vertical gangway by the side of the wall was available to the patrons to get out of the cinema hall, there would not have been delay in these patrons coming out of the balcony and precious time would not have been lost and may be many of the persons who had died because of fresh oxygen being not available to them and due to asphyxiation, might have been saved. Since the criminal trial is going on against the owners of the cinema and certain other persons, we refrain ourselves from giving any opinion as to whether there was any negligence and connivance on the part of any of the authorities in adding these seats and in not providing the gangway and the exits at places where they are meant to be provided and whether the owners and other authorities were aware that by not providing the gangways and exits at the places where they are meant to be provided and by adding these seats, safety of the patrons was endangered.

Having thus held that there was clear deviation and violation of the rules and regulations prescribed by the authorities for providing gangways, exits, stairways, etc. we are next required to examine whether other basic facilities like emergency light, alarm signals, public address system, illumination, etc. of the exit signs which are required to be available in case of an emergent situation were provided by the management so as to assist the cinegoers in getting out of the theatre when the fire had broken out and the hall was filled with smoke. Though there is some difference in the statement of the witnesses recorded by the police under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and also by the Naresh Kumar Committee as to whether the management had continued to run the movie even after the fire had taken place and if so for how much time, however, for purposes of this case this Court is not required to go into the disputed questions of fact but one point on which there is no dispute is that when the smoke had started entering the cinema hall from the side of the screen, the movie was still on. If the theory of the Delhi Vidyut Board is accepted that the electricity was switched off immediately the cable was snapped from its socket and the circuit was broken, the movie must have been shown with the aid of generator and if the theory of the Delhi Vidyut Board is not correct about the circuit having broken within seconds of the cable having been snapped from its socket, the movie must have been continued to be shown with the aid of the electricity before it was completely shut out. Had timely warning being given to the patrons sitting in the hall by the management of the hall about the fire having taken place in the sub-station on the ground floor of the building in the parking area, the tragedy might not occurred. It is in evidence, which is not in dispute, that the movie was stopped by the operator from the operator room after some time of his being informed over the intercom and also by the staff Dayanand regarding the outbreak of fire. Immediately after the viewers were informed by the cinema staff, the lights went off and in the absence of any emergency light it became pitch dark in the hall. The presence of dense black smoke in the hall aggravated the panic situation. Though the viewers sitting in the main hall were able to go out of the theatre because of the opening of the exits, those sitting in the balcony found it difficult to go out as both the exits were on one side of the cinema hall and everybody rushed towards that side. Most of the patrons in the balcony were not able to find even these exits because of the darkness in the hall. Had emergency lights been provided in the theatre, the viewers would have been able to know the location of the exits and the position might not have aggravated to that extent. The public address system was not functioning and the management was, therefore, not in a position to inform the viewers as to how to get out of the theatre. As per the statement of witnesses recorded by Naresh Kumar as well as by the investigating officer under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure the public address system appear to have never been used and no one ever thought of putting the same to use as it was necessary for the safety of the patrons. The sidelights on the seats were also not working and we are informed and, as also supported by the material on record, that at least for the last one year the sidelights of the seats were not working. The battery used for emergency light was dry and as per the statement of the operator there was no arrangement for recharging the battery in the cinema. Viewers even after coming out of the balcony did not find way to the staircase as it was completely dark because of the dense smoke and no assistance was provided to them by the staff. The balcony and the foyer outside thus became a gas chamber. People rushed into the toilets, some even tried to go upstairs but it appears that everyone was trapped. Even in normal circumstances, as is evident from the statement of the witnesses, it is not easy for a person, who is not conversant with the topography of the cinema to find the way to get out of the theatre but in the situation of chaos, invisibility and inhalation of poisonous fumes in which they were placed and in the absence of any assistance from the staff, the viewers tried to get out of the theatre from whichever way they found an opening. In the absence of sufficient oxygen and in the absence of the smoke going out of the theatre building, one can easily understand the plight of the viewers trapped in the balcony and the foyer outside the same. No doubt some of the members of the staff tried to help the viewers, however, the effort was not sufficient. As already mentioned above, poor ventilation and the burning of car seats, tyres, petrol, diesel, transformer oil and cable insulation, etc. were responsible for the growth and spread of fire and smoke. The absence of sufficient oxygen though helped in not spreading the fire, however, the same resulted in high smoke generation emanating toxic gases like carbon monoxide, Hydrochloric gas, Cozen gas, etc. and they in fact were the cause of fatality of the viewers in the balcony and the area outside the same because of asphyxiation. The staff of the theatre was not prepared nor trained for such an emergency. They were also not trained to meet such type of unprecedented situations and most of them, therefore, ran away from the place of incident for their own lives.

It is the case of the owners of the theatre that the smoke did not spread due to any structural defect/deviation or violation in the cinema building. It is admitted case that at the time of sanction of the theatre only a 3 feet high parapet wall was sanctioned behind the transformer room along the ramp. Though it is the contention of the petitioners as also that of the Delhi Vidyut Board that the 3 feet high parapet wall was raised upto the ceiling level without any approval of the building plans from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, however, the case of the theatre owners is that this 3 feet high parapet wall was raised upto the ceiling level only after the plans were sanctioned by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. As already observed by us above, it is not for this Court to decide at this stage whether or not the plans were sanctioned for raising the height of 3 feet parapet wall to the ceiling height of 12 feet, however, the fact remains that with the raising of the height of the 3 feet high parapet wall upto the ceiling level, the ground floor parking area was converted into an enclosed room with no provision for ingress of fresh air inside that area and egress of polluted air from the parking lot. Providing of the exhaust fan in the transformer room was of no use as the hot air being thrown out of the transformer room by the exhaust fan was circulated within the ground floor area as it could not go out of the same because of the height of the parapet wall being raised to 12 feet. Had the height of the wall not been raised, we are firmly of the opinion, the smoke emanating from the transformer room and from the parking lot because of burning of cars would have gone out of the ground floor and the parking lot, through the opening where the wall had been constructed later on upto the ceiling level. Because of the existence of wall, the smoke did not find any other way except to go to the upper floors through the stairways causing a chimney effect and resulted in concentration of the smoke in the balcony area. Existence of this wall to a large extent contributed in the spreading of smoke. Not only that the wall was constructed up to the ceiling height in place of 3 feet high parapet wall but the management of the theatre had also constructed a dispensary above the ramp which was also in clear violation of the building bye laws. Construction of inter-mediate floor with the aid of R S Joists was also in violation of the building bye laws. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi has not placed any material on record to show that it had taken any action against the theatre for violation of the bye laws. Even assuming that the wall was constructed after the plans were approved by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, we are of the opinion that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi did not adopt a cautious approach while approving such a wall and did not at all consider whether the construction of wall would jeopardise the safety of the patrons vising the hall. The safety standards in places where large number of people gather, in our view, are required to be strictly complied with and there is no question of substantial compliance of rules in such places. There cannot be any compromise with the safety standards. If the authorities are to err they are to err in favour of safety and not otherwise. In the present case, we are of the opinion that if the plans were approved by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, it was clearly an error on their part and the same was approved in violation of the rules and regulations not only under the Electricity Act but also under the building bye laws and other provisions of the Cinematograph Act. It is our experience that the authorities, including the Licensing Authority, the Delhi Vidyut Board, the health authorities and the municipal authorities adopt a casual approach in inspecting the cinemas and other places visited by large number of people keeping in view the safety aspect of the visitors. It is required of the Corporation and other authorities to approve the plans of a theatre and other buildings visited by large number of persons, keeping in view their safety and keeping in view the provisions of the Delhi Fire (Prevention and Fire) Safety Act and other like provisions. The authorities are required to heavily come down upon the owners of the building visited by large number of people if the safety standards are not adhered to.

For all the above reasons, we are of the considered view that the Licensee of the Uphaar Cinema, the licensing branch of the Delhi Police, the Delhi Vidyut Board and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi were all responsible for having contributed to the spreading of fire and smoke by their acts of omission and commission and they are all jointly and severally liable for payment of compensation to the victims of the unfortunate incident. We have not been able to find any act of commission or omission on the part of the Delhi Fire Service or the other departments of Delhi Police to held them liable or responsible for the disaster.

Having thus held that all the persons/authorities mentioned above were responsible for the disaster that had taken place in the theatre on 13th June, 1996 and they are liable to pay compensation to the unfortunate victims/their relatives for the death and/or injuries sustained, the question for consideration is what should be the quantum of compensation and how the same can be assessed.

In the present case, as we have noticed above, there is not much of a dispute between the parties about the rules and regulations which are clear and unambiguous and everybody knows them and in any case should know them. It is also not in dispute that the Government is entrusted with the duty to ensure that the rules and regulations were to be complied with. It is also not in dispute that a theatre is a place where large number of people have to sit in an enclosed area for a long period of time and there is a potential threat to the life and safety if fire, leakage of gas, etc. takes place and this potential threat has to be guarded against. It cannot, therefore, be said that the authorities as well as the cinema owners and its employees are under no obligation to provide and maintain all standards of safety and if because of their negligence or lack of care in not observing those standards of safety, a loss is caused to a person, it cannot be said that the authorities and the individuals who are responsible for this lack of care and negligence will not be liable to compensate for losses. It, therefore, appears to us that under the doctrine of strict liability and public law, the liability would be there even if there was no negligence on the part of the respondents. We have already observed above that by this judgment we are not in any way holding any person or authority negligent or responsible for the fire which had taken place as the same is a matter which is required to be determined in the trial after evidence is recorded, however, we still feel that there were clearly a lack of care on the part of the authorities in providing and maintaining all standards of public safety and the approach on the part of everyone concerned was wholly casual and the safety standards were thrown to winds. Despite there being clear violations and deviations of the Cinematograph Act and the rules framed thereunder; despite the transformer not being maintained in accordance with the standards fixed not only under the rules but also by the Delhi Vidyut Board and despite their being violation of the building bye-laws, the authorities ignored each one of these violations and showed scant respect to the safety of the persons visiting the theatre. The fact that safety standards were prescribed by the authorities clearly show that the disaster was foreseeable. We, therefore, hold that the respondents, namely, the Licencees; the Delhi Vidyut Board; Municipal Corporation of Delhi; and the Licensing Authority are jointly and severally liable to compensate the victims of the unfortunate incidents and/or their relatives.

As we have already held that the respondents, namely, the Licencees; the Delhi Vidyut Board; Municipal Corporation of Delhi; and the Licensing Authority were responsible for having contributed to the fire/spreading of fire by their acts of omission and commission, they are all jointly and severally liable for payment of compensation to the victims of the unfortunate incident. The question remains about the quantum of damages payable to each one of the victims of this unfortunate incident. In Annexure-B to the writ petition, the names of the persons who have died along with ages of some of them has been given while the names of the persons injured in the incident has been given in Annexure-C to the writ petition. Nothing has been brought on record to show as to what was the nature of injuries sustained by each of the persons injured in the incident nor it is brought to the notice of the Court as to whether all or any one of them was hospitalised and, if so, for what period and whether there was any disability of temporary or permanent nature suffered by any one of the persons injured in the incident. In the absence of these particulars, we are of the opinion that it may not be possible for the Court to quantify the amount of compensation payable to each of the injured persons, however, for the mental pain, shock and agony which they must have experienced at the time of fire and thereafter, in our view, they are entitled to be compensated. We, therefore, direct the aforesaid respondents to pay a sum of Rs.1,00,000/- (Rupees One Lac only) to each of the persons injured in the incident by way of compensation for the mental pain, shock and agony suffered by them.

The Supreme Court in G.M. Kerala State Road Transport Corporation Trivandrum Vs.Susamma Thomas (Mrs) and Ors. (Supra), has held that the multiplier method of compensation was the logically sound and well established method for determining the compensation. It was held that a departure might be justified only in rare and extra ordinary circumstances and very exceptional cases. It has also been held by the Supreme Court in Sarla Dixit Vs.Balwant Yadav, etc. that unless there were special reasons, the Court should not deviate from the schedule of the Motor Vehicles Act in arriving at just compensation payable to the victims of the road accident. The principles laid down in the said judgment can also be applied in the present case. Though the actual income of none of the deceased is on record but having regard to the fact that all those persons who had either died or were injured were sitting in the balcony where the rate of admission was Rs.50/- per seat, it can safely be concluded that the victims of the fire incident belong to reasonably well placed families and this Court will, therefore, not be in error in holding that the average income of each one of the victims above the age of 20 years was not less than Rs.15,000/- per month. Deducting 1/3rd for the personal expenses of the deceased, the dependency would not be less than Rs.10,000/- per month or say Rs.1,20,000/- per annum. Applying the multiplier 15 prescribed in the second schedule to the Motor Vehicles Act, in our view, relatives of each one of the victims would be entitled to compensation of Rs.18,00,000/- (Rupees Eighteen Lacs only). Insofar as the children mentioned in Annexure-B are concerned, in our view, the relatives of each one of the said child would be entitled to a lump sum compensation of Rs.15,00,000/- (Rupees Fifteen Lacs only). We also direct that the relatives of the deceased as well as the persons injured in fire will also be entitled to interest at the rate of 9% per annum from the date of filing of the petition on the amount of compensation assessed by us. The respondents, above-named, are granted two months time to pay compensation with interest and till such time the compensation is paid, respondents 11 and 12 will have no right to transfer, assign or create third party rights in the cinema building. In case of non-payment of compensation within the period fixed by us, the amount can be recovered by execution as a decree by sale of the cinema building or in any other manner in accordance with law.

We have arrived at the compensation on the basis of our estimation of the income of the victims of the unfortunate incident as we had no means to know their exact income. We, therefore, leave it open to the injured as well as relatives of the deceased to claim compensation based on the exact income of the victims by filing a suit or any other proceeding as may be permissible in law and if a suit or any other proceedings claiming such compensation are initiated within one year of this judgment, the same shall not be dismissed only on the ground of limitation. The amount directed by us to be payable under this judgment shall be adjusted against the amount which may ultimately be granted in favour of such persons in the proceedings mentioned above.

Since we have held that the liability of the Delhi Vidyut Board, owners of the cinema, the licensing authority and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is joint and several, in our view, each one of them would be jointly and severally liable for payment of compensation to the victims of the incident. Though each one of the said respondents is jointly and severally liable to pay compensation to the victims of the unfortunate incident, we feel that we will have to apportion the liability of each one of these respondents and it would be open to anyone of the respondents from whom the entire amount is recovered to claim the share of the other respondents in accordance with the apportionment made by us. Since the owners of the cinema were the largest beneficiaries of the addition of seats in the balcony and raising of 3 feet high parapet wall to the ceiling level on the ground floor of the building and have earned profit from the same, we hold that respondents 11 and 12 shall be liable to pay compensation to the extent of 55% and taking into account the culpability and involvement of the government authorities in the non-observance of statutory requirements in the light of the findings recorded in this judgment, each of the other respondents, namely, Delhi Vidyut Board, respondent No.6, the licensing authority, respondent No.3 and Municipal Corporation of Delhi, respondent No.4 would be liable to pay 15% of the compensation.

Besides the compensation payable by the abovenamed respondents for their failure to observe the statutory rules meant for safety of the persons visiting the cinema hall, in our view, respondents 11 and 12 will also be liable to pay punitive damages to the extent of the profit which they have earned by selling the extra seats unauthorisedly and illegally sanctioned by the authorities. We, therefore, direct the respondents to pay the aforesaid sum of Rs.2,50,00,000/- (Rupees Two Crores Fifty Lacs only) assessed by us as the income earned by them by selling tickets for additional 52 seats between 1979 and 1996. This amount will be paid for setting up a Central Accident Trauma Service and will be recovered by the Government from respondents 11 and 12.

We have not examined in detail the question whether the directors and shareholders of respondents 11 and 12 are personally liable to pay damages/compensation to the victims of the unfortunate incident. In our opinion, there may be culpability of some of the directors in non-observance of statutory rules and orders which have resulted in the spreading of fire reducing the means of egress from the balcony because of addition of seats and closure of gangways and exits, causing death of large number of persons on the fateful day, however, as it is a disputed question of fact and without evidence it may not be possible for us to hold as to which of the directors can be held to be guilty and as the matter is already before the Sessions Court which is inquiring into the question as to which of these persons could be held liable, we have refrained ourselves from giving any opinion on the culpability of the said individuals.

The only other point remaining for consideration is as to what recommendations are to be made by this Court to avoid such incidents/accidents in future and though, in our view, there was no negligence either on the part of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences or on the part of the Delhi Police or Safdarjung Hospital in treating the patients, however, we feel that it is the duty of the Government to provide assistance to the victims of the road accident or similar incidents of fire, etc. and for this the Centralised Trauma Service need to be provided by the State. It is the duty of the State to provide timely assistance to such victims who at the time of the accident find themselves in a helpless position and there is no one to look after them. The Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, has filed an additional affidavit stating inter alia that keeping in view the advancement of medical science, the idea of establishing a well equipped centre for trauma care was mooted and with that end in view the Institute was given land near Raj Nagar, New Delhi measuring 14.34 acres at a cost of Rs.99 lacs which amount was paid in March, 1996 and possession thereof was taken on 29th January, 1986. It is stated that later on in the year 1988 on the recommendations of the then Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, the said project was handed over to Delhi Administration and the ambulance services were also started by them. In the year 1991 the then Health Minister took up the matter again with the then Lieutenant Governor wherein it emerged that it was not feasible for the Delhi Government to construct and equip the centre due to financial constraints. It was also felt that the apex centre should be part and parcel of the multi disciplinary hospital like AIIMS or Safdarjung and the land measuring 14.34 acres earlier handed over to AIIMS should be returned by the Delhi Administration to the Central Government for its utilisation. The land was ultimately stated to have been returned to AIIMS in December, 1992. The ambulance service was, however, retained by the Delhi Government. In January, 1993 M/s.Hospital Consultancy Corporation, a Government of India undertaking, was engaged for architectural and structural designs of the trauma centre. The plans were prepared for the trauma centre and were approved by the Urban Arts Commission, Delhi Fire Services and New Delhi Municipal Council in February, 1995. It is further submitted in the affidavit that the budget projection for construction of the trauma centre was also made in the 9th Five Year Plan amounting to Rs.50 crores and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was to decide about the arrangement for the project management of the construction of trauma centre. Despite all the steps having been taken, the project has remained only on paper and could not be started.

As already observed by us above, it is the duty of the Government to provide timely assistance to the victims of the road accident or similar other accidents including fire and steps have, therefore, to be taken by the Government to set up a Centralised Trauma Service to provide timely assistance to the victims of the accident at a time when they find themselves at a totally hopeless position. Despite the fact that provision of more than Rs.50 crores has been made by the Government for setting up the trauma service in the 9th Five Year Plan and despite the fact that land has been made available since about 1988, no steps have been taken by the Government to set up a centralised trauma service. As observed by the Naresh Kumar Committee, the National Capital Territory of Delhi has the dubious distinction of having the highest annual fatalities on its roads among all the cities in the world. In accidents the critical factor is the time taken to provide medical assistance to the injured. It is, therefore, the need of the day to immediately start a centralised trauma service to provide medical assistance to the people immediately in situations of emergencies so that they can be attended to at the site itself and further on way to the hospitals. Though the petitioners have submitted that the petitioners association be associated in setting up and augmenting the centralised trauma service and other allied services in the city of Delhi, however, in our view, it is entirely for the Government to decided as to who are the persons who can be associated with the said service. We in this petition will not like to make any recommendation nor we give any direction for associating the petitioners association in the setting up of the said service. Besides approving the recommendations of the Naresh Kumar Committee, we make the following recommendations:-

A) We were also informed that several requests by the fire authorities for adequate maintenance and timely up gradation of the equipment have floundered in the bureaucratic quagmire. When lives of citizens are involved the requirement of those dealing in public safety should be urgently processed and no such administration process of clearance in matters of public safety should take more than 90 days. We are not unmindful of the fact that entertainment tax generates sufficient revenue for the administration, which can easily meet the financial requirements of bodies which are required to safeguard public health.

B) It is also necessary that considering the number of theatres and auditoria functioning in the city, sufficient staff to inspect and enforce statutory norms should be provided by the Delhi Administration.

C) We also recommend that the Delhi police should only be concerned with law and order and entrusting of responsibility of licensing on the police force is an additional burden upon the already over burdened city police force.

D) We also accordingly recommend that the inspection and enforcement of the statutory norms should be in the hands of one specialized multi disciplinary body which should deal with all aspects of the licensing of public places. It should contain experts in the field of (a) fire prevention (b) electric supply (c) law and order (d) municipal sanctions (e) urban planning (f) public health and (g) licensing. Such a single multidisciplinary body would ensure that the responsibility of public safety is in the hands of a body which could be then held squarely responsible for any lapse and these would lead to a situation which would avoid the passing of the back. Today we have a situation where different bodies look after various components of public safety. A single body would also ensure speedier processing of applications for licences reducing red tape and avoidable complications and inevitable delay.

E) All necessary equipment should be provided to ambulances and the fire brigade including gas masks, search lights, map of water tanks located in the area including the existence of the location of the underground water tanks. Such water tank locations should be available to the firemen working in the area. The workshop for the fire tenders service and maintenance should also be fully equipped with all spares and other equipment and requisition made by the fire brigade should receive prompt and immediate attention. There should also be adequate training imparted to the policemen to control the crowd in the event of a disaster as it is found that onlookers are a hindrance to rescue operations. Similarly all ambulances dealing with disaster management should be fully equipped.

We hope and wish that all these recommendations are implemented in as short a time as possible.

With these observations, the petition stands disposed of.

Note: The Above Judgement is challenged in the honourable Supreme Court of India by Ansal Theatre & Clubotels (P) Ltd., the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi Police, and the same is still pending!

4 thoughts on “Court Judgements from April 2003 – Excerpts

  1. This has been a big achievement for all the family members who lost their loved ones in this disaster. It has been a long and painful struggle. No punishment can bring back their family members, but this verdict would definitely deter all those greedy people who play with other’s lives for money.
    Heartiest Congratulations to all the families on this achievement.
    May the souls of all the loved ones rest in peace.

  2. It happened ten years ago and still the memories are fresh in my mind. I was a student of architecture that time and I felt so strongly against the reasons and system that caused this tragedy.
    This long fight against corruption had strengthened my belief that eventually – We can make a difference – no matter how small. I can feel the pain of people who lost their loved ones and I pray that guilty get punished in a just manner and Make sure that laws are strictly followed. Life is more precious than all the material gains.

  3. I do not think, judgments impart relief, they just punish the guilty.
    It’s companionship and support that would bring relief to the mourning families. Giving a reason to live sometimes is a bigger relief. While I do sincerely hope that these recommendations are implemented, I make a bigger call. Let’s make an attempt to reconnect these people to society. Let’s work together in getting system right such that there are no more ‘Uphaars’ ever again.

  4. The memories of Uphar Cinema are still fresh in my mind. Our house was near the cinema and we used to see night shows quite often.
    The judgements, in my view will not be able to bring any relief to the mourning families or able to stop further such events. The “Chalta hai” attitude and poor implementation of the laws in India is the main reason behind such events.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s