Members of AVUT who lost 59 relatives in a fire in Uphaar cinema on Friday, June 13, 1997 have, for the past 17 years also grappled with an excruciating legal battle. After a sustained & prolonged legal battle AVUT’s stand has been vindicated when the Hon’ble Supreme Court convicted Sushil Ansal & Gopal Ansal.
The verdict of the Hon’ble Supreme court dated 5th March 2014, convicted Sushil Ansal & Gopal Ansal owners/occupiers of the cinema on the grounds that the Ansal brothers not only showed scant regard for the safety of patrons by closing the exit, putting up extra seats in the gangway for some extra money, but also endangered their safety by making structural changes in the theatre. But all these findings failed to give any concrete results to the 17 year long efforts of the families of the victims when the bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court differed on the quantum of sentence after concurring on their guilt under Section 304A of Indian Penal Code for negligent acts.
The bench referred determination of sentence to a three-judge bench .The victims will now have to await the decision of the three-judge bench.
Our courts have not learnt from their counterparts in other countries who have dealt sternly and swiftly with regard to 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. The law is being administered by our courts for law’s sake and not for justice.
Punishment should always be proportionate to /commensurate with the gravity of the offence, and economic or social status of the accused or long pendency of the criminal trial cannot be construed as a factor for reducing the sentence.
Members of the Association hope that the larger bench would consider the enormity of the tragedy before deciding on the quantum of sentence. It is very evident from the findings of the Hon’ble Supreme Court that 59 invaluable lives were snuffed out due to wanton disregard of the statutes with the intention of making extra money rather than ensuring the safety of patrons. We also hope that the decision on the quantum of punishment is such that it would send a strong message to the occupiers & owners of public spaces that they cannot endanger human lives to fill their coffers.
We appeal to the Government of India to bring in a new legislation to deal with man-made disasters pending for past 5 years.
We at AVUT still await closure.