For 16 long years the Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) has been fighting to get justice for their loved ones who were killed on June 13th, 1997 at Uphaar Cinema, New Delhi in one of the worst manmade tragedies.
AVUT invested its faith in the Criminal Justice System and took up an arduous and agonizing fight for justice in the hope that it would get speedy justice for those who were killed in the tragedy. Sixteen years into fighting the case have put paid on any hope for speedy justice. All that is left is to see if justice will ever be done.
You may well ask why, having lost everything that matters in the Uphaar fire, did AVUT take on this long legal battle? AVUT’s endeavor is to ensure that people who are responsible for such manmade tragedies are duly penalized in a manner that acts as a deterrent in the future. The nation has witnessed many manmade tragedies in the last one and half decades since the Uphaar fire in which 59 people who had come to watch the premiere of the film, Border, perished. It is with utmost pain that the members of AVUT have come to realize that for India’s policy makers and decision makers, human life is very cheap.
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 manmade tragedies and put in place appropriate judicial mechanisms that force offenders to think twice before indulging in acts of omission and commission that can endanger human life.
In the year 2009, AVUT appealed to Smt Sonia Gandhi to bring in a new legislation to deal with manmade disasters but no concrete steps have been taken by the government in this direction in the four years since this appeal was made. The life and safety of citizens is not a priority.
Despite Hon’ble Supreme Court’s directions in their judgement dated 13.10.2011 in the Uphaar Fire Tragedy case to bring in appropriate legislation to deal with claims in Public Law for violation of Fundamental Rights guaranteed to citizens at the hands of the state and its officials, no concrete steps have been taken to bring in a legislation.
Our lawmakers have not learnt from their counterparts in other countries who have dealt sternly and swiftly to deal with tragedies involving human lives. In the recent judgement by an Italian court in the Asbestos case, the courts have sentenced the accused to 18 years in jail and have ordered him to pay tens of millions of Euros to local authorities and the victim’s family. The owner of the República de Cromañón nightclub in Buenos Aires was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2004 blaze that killed 194 music fans. These verdicts are in sharp contrast to the conservative judgements passed by our courts. In the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Uphaar fire tragedy and other manmade tragedies in India where hundreds of innocent lives were lost, the perpetrators of the crimes have been charged under Section 304A IPC, which has a maximum punishment of a mere 2 years.
In our country, the lawmakers and the courts react only when there is public outrage, the most recent example being the Nirbhaya case. After sustained expressions of public outrage, an anti rape law has been enacted and fast track courts have been set up to deal with such cases. We fail to understand why the victims of manmade tragedies have to wait for decades to get justice when the country has witnessed tragedy after tragedy resulting in the loss of thousands of precious lives.
Public memory is distressingly short. People have forgotten and moved on but the family members of the departed gather on June 13th every year to pray for the peace of the departed souls. However, there can be no peace without justice. It is this truth, however ugly, but told with unflinching honesty, that can heal their unassuaged agony. And for justice to be delivered to the unfortunate victims of the Uphaar tragedy, the leaders, the courts and the people of this nation need to stand tall on the side of justice.
Members of AVUT once again appeal to the country’s policy makers to implement stringent laws to deter and avert such manmade tragedies so that in future, precious human lives are not lost.