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Uphaar cinema tragedy: Victims finally get
justice as Delhi HC orders compensation
April 24, 2003 11:53 IST
In a historic judgment, the Delhi High Court on Thursday ordered approximately Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) in compensation to the victims of the Uphaar fire tragedy in which 59 people lost their lives in June 1997.
A bench comprising Justice S K Mahajan and Justice Mukul Mudgal ordered payment of Rs 15lakh each to the relatives of the victims who were less than 20 years at the time of the tragedy and a sum of Rs 18lakh each to those who were above 20 years.
The court also ordered compensation of Rs one lakh each to those injured in the mishap.
The amount is to be paid with nine per cent interest from the date of the institution of the petition.
The incident, on June 13, 1997, occurred during the screening of the blockbuster Border.
While, 57 died on the same day, two others succumbed to their burn injuries later.
The Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy had sought compensation from Ansal Properties and Clubotel Ltd, which owned the theatre, and the Delhi government alleging that 'negligence' on their part led to the fire in the cinema hall.
The court had reserved its order on the petition on September 24 last after marathon arguments that stretched for over a year.
The court has also viewed video footages of various TV channels, which had covered the fire to see if they could be of any evidentiary value.
Holding the owners of the Uphaar cinema, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Delhi Vidyut (electricity) Board (DVB) and the licensing authority 'guilty of negligence', the high court directed the cinema owners to pay 55 per cent of the compensation since they were the maximum beneficiaries of the profit earned from the cinema.
The remaining 45 per cent would be borne equally by MCD, DVB and licencing authorities, each contributing 15 per cent of the amount, the order said.
Disposing off the civil writ petition filed by the AVUT, the court also directed the cinema owners to pay for the earnings from the unauthorised seats put up on the balcony (without prior permission from authorities).
This amount (Rs 2.5 crore or Rs 25 million) would go for the construction of a centralized accident trauma centre in the capital, the court said.
In case of non-payment of compensation within two months as fixed by the court, the money could be recovered by sale of the cinema hall, the bench said.
Observing that the compensation amount was not based on the actual income of victims, the court gave the injured as well as the relatives of the deceased the liberty to claim compensation based on the exact income of the victims by filing a fresh suit or any other proceedings within a year of this judgment.
The court said such a suit shall not be dismissed only on the ground of limitation and the amount payable under this judgment shall be adjusted against the amount, which may ultimately be granted to the injured or the relatives of the deceased in any fresh proceeding.
The judgment came on a civil writ petition filed by the AVUT claiming a compensation of Rs 122crore (Rs 1.22 billion) for the incident.
The AVUT had sought compensation of Rs 30lakh to the kin of each of those dead and Rs two lakh to each injured.
It has said the high toll in the incident was due to the lack of a trauma centre at the AIIMS and other hospitals in the capital.
Sushil Ansal, his brother Gopal Ansal and 14 others, including several government officials, are also facing trial in a Delhi court for criminal negligence.
While the Ansals, DVB, MCD and the licencing authority share the blame for the tragedy, the Delhi Fire Service (DFS), AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital were not found guilty of negligence of duty.
"...in our view, there was no negligence either on the part of AIIMS or on the part of the Delhi Police or Safdarjung Hospital in treating the patients," the bench observed in its 192-page judgment.
On the role of the DFS during the mishap, the court said despite many shortcomings in the equipment provided to it by the government, the officials performed their duty 'commendably' and 'satisfactorily'.
Rejecting the plea of the Ansals and other respondents that the petition was not maintainable, the bench said, "Even if there was no negligence, it has been proved to the satisfaction of the court that there was statutory violation of safety standards by the authorities. These violations may be sufficient to hold the respondents liable for compensation to the victims of the unfortunate incident."
Pointing to loopholes in the working of the civic authority and law enforcing agencies, the court also made some recommendations in the judgment to avoid such accidents and incidents in the future.