A rankling sense of injustice tortures the 28 families who lost 59 relatives in a fire in Uphaar cinema during the matinee show on the first day of the release of Hindi movie, Border, on Friday, June 13, 1997.
The past 12 years have been an excruciating legal battle for the Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT). In December 2008, the Hon’ble High Court, despite holding theatre owners Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal responsible for the following crucial decisions which had direct link with the death of 59 patrons, reduced their sentence to mere one year:
(1) The decision to install a DVB transformer contrary to sanctioned plan and without the permission or approval of the licensing authority and MCD;
(2) Absence of fire safety measures within the transformer room,again contrary to regulations;
(3) The Structural deviations in the cinema hall;
(4) Use of several portions of the cinema hall for commercial purposes;
(5) Negligent management of parking;
(6) The decisions taken to completely shut the right side gangway in the balcony, that reduced the number of gangways, correspondingly increase the seats and also crucially blocked the right exit;
(7) Failure to ensure proper supervision within the cinema at the time of the show, contrary to the mandate of DCR 1953 and DCR 1981;
(8) Failure to ensure functioning fire safety equipment that would have warned the patrons to leave the cinema hall immediately upon the outbreak of fire or an emergency and also facilitate their escape through proper lighting; were directly attributable to the owners and occupiers of this cinema hall.
The verdict to reduce the sentence smacks of tokenism and has further traumatized and victimized us when we realize that the people responsible for the tragedy have been let off with a mere one year sentence because both are of “advanced age, have no previous criminal record and are educated, respectable members of the society”. The families of the deceased have resolved that they will continue their fight for justice.
We take this opportunity to remind people that no verdict or sentence can bring back to life our dear ones, who were so cruelly snatched away from us. The outcome of this case will, in fact, impact public safety and we hope that in future, public spaces in the country will become safer.
It is with the utmost pain that we have come to realize that for our policy-makers and decision-makers, victims have no role in the criminal justice system. Policy-makers are very concerned about the reform, rehabilitation & rights of the accused but victims who have suffered at the hands of the accused are totally neglected.
While the death toll differs, there is one common thread that runs through each of the tragedies that have rocked the nation in the last quarter of a century – all of them have been man made. The offenders of such crimes are often booked for causing death due to rash and negligent acts, which is a bailable offence. In this grim scenario, incidents of such catastrophic magnitude are bound to recur since there is no legal deterrent that can instill fear in the minds of those who willfully or casually inflict harm. The need of the hour is to have appropriate legislation to tackle such man made tragedies and put in place appropriate judicial mechanisms that offenders to think twice before indulging in acts of omission and commission that can endanger human life