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Uphaar fire: SC grants interim relief of Rs 5.14 cr to victims

December 16, 2009 21:09 IST

The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted an interim relief of Rs 5.14 crore to dependents and injured victims of Uphaar cinema hall tragedy, which claimed 59 lives and injured 103 people in New Delhi in June 1997.

The apex court passed the direction while recording an undertaking from the Union home ministry, which offered to pay an ex-gratia of Rs 2.14 crore as its interim contribution, and the cinema hall owner Ansal family, which agreed to furnish Rs 3 crore as its immediate share.

The interim relief would be given without any prejudice to the final compensation that would be awarded by the apex court, which today reserved its judgment on the quantum of and recommendations to be made to the government to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

A bench of Justices R V Raveendran and K S Radhakrishnan, however, rejected the offer of another Rs 1 crore by the Ansals as their contribution to the Trauma Centre of the All India Institutue of Medical Science.

"We may agree with your offer of Rs 3 crore to the victims, but we do not agree with your Rs 1 crore offer for the Trauma Centre as it appears that you want to evoke this court's sympathy for you," the bench told senior counsel A K Ganguly appearing for the Ansals.

The Ansal's offer of a total Rs 4 crore by way of interim measure was also rebuffed by the Association of Victims of Upahaar Tragedy, whose senior counsel retorted, "We do not want charity. Let them not intimidate the witnessses and tamper with court records."

Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising, on behalf of the home ministry, said that as a token of "goodwill" the ministry has decided to immediately contribute its interim share of Rs 2.14 crore, but clarified the same shall be treated as "ex-gratia" and "should also not be treated as a precedent."

On November 14, by a separate order, the apex court had asked the Ansals to release an interim compensation of Rs 3.4 crore (including interest) to the families and injured victims of the infamous fire tragedy in which 59 people perished in June 1997.

The court said the amount would only be an interim measure subject to its final verdict on the total compensation of Rs 18.5 crore directed by the Delhi high court on April 24, 2004.

Holding the owners of the Uphaar cinema, the Municpal Corporation of Delhi, the Delhi Vidyut Board and licensing authority guilty of negligence, the High Court had directed the cinema owners to pay 55 percent of the compensation award and the remaining 45

percent was to be borne proportionately by the MCD, the DVB and licencing authorities, each contributing 15 percent of the amount.

The high court had also directed the cinema owners to pay Rs 2.5 crore as additional compensation for construction of a centralised accident trauma centre in Delhi.

It had ordered payment of compensation at the rate of of Rs 15 lakh each to the relatives of the victims who were less than 20 years at the time of the tragedy and a sum of Rs 18 lakh each to those who were above 20 years.

However, only about 40 of the 142 victims had obtained 20 percent of the compensation as the total amount has so far not been disbursed as barring Delhi Vidyut Board, the other parties have filed their appeals in the apex court challenging the compensation awarded by the high court as being too high.

The Ansal brothers -- Gopal and Sushil -- and others have have already been convicted for criminal negligence for the fire tragedy which occurred during the screening of Hindi movie Border.

Though the brothers were sentenced to two years imprisonment by the trial court, the high court had reduced the same to one year.

The high court had also reduced the jail term of DVB officials Brij Mohan Satija and Bir Singh and Manmohan Unniyal, the then gatekeeper of Uphaar, from seven years to two years and that of Delhi Fire Service officer H S Panwar from two years to one year.

It also acquitted five others held guilty by the trial court.

Both the convicted persons and the victims have filed appeals in the apex court challenging the high court verdict which is pending.

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