New Delhi, June 13: A rankling sense of injustice tortures the 28 families who lost 59 relatives in a fire at Uphaar Cinema, on Friday, June 13, 1997,when the High Court pronounced a mere one year sentence for the main accused Sushil & Gopal Ansal. Fourteen years after the tragedy, the curtains haven’t come down on the case. The struggle to ensure safety in public spaces and create accountability for innocent lives lost remains a distant dream.
In July 2009, AVUT petitioned the President of India, Smt. Sonia Gandhi and the Law Minister proposing legislation to prevent manmade tragedies in public places. For over two years, the matter has been pending with the Law Commission. In March 2011, AVUT gave fresh inputs to the Law Commission but the absence of strong legal deterrents that can instill fear in the minds of those who willfully or casually inflict harm continues.
Basic amendments that discourage the culture of adjournments which delay the legal proceedings can go a long way in establishing the credibility of the criminal justice system, which allows the rich and powerful to evade the law.
A classic example of manipulation of the legal system can be seen in the modus operandi of Mr. Amod Kanth in the Uphaar case. Mr. Kanth was summoned by the Ld. Magistrate vide his order dated 12.08.2010 to stand trial for the offence u/s 304A, 337,338 IPC and section 14 of the Cinematograph Act. He approached the High Court for setting aside the said order on the ground that no sanction u/s 197 Cr PC has been obtained. AVUT appealed to the Home Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram, in September 2010 to intervene but the sanction to prosecute Mr. Amod Kanth is still awaited.
The collusion of callous and greedy officials, big business houses and an apathetic system flourishes. Civil society movements to insist on appropriate judicial mechanisms that compel offenders to think twice before indulging in acts of omission and commission that can endanger human life are the need of the hour. Till such time, there can be no closure or healing for the families of the victims of the Uphaar fire.