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Uphaar case: 'We want it to make people
aware of their responsibilities'
Onkar Singh in New Delhi | April 24, 2003 18:30 IST
Families of the victims of the Uphaar fire tragedy have welcomed the judgment of a division bench of the Delhi high court, which awarded a compensation of approximately Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) to the kin of those killed and the injured.
Fifty-nine persons were killed and 104 injured in the fire on June 13, 1997 when the theatre was screening the blockbuster Border.
Shekhar and Neelam Krishnamurthy, who have been relentlessly pursuing the case since 1997, told rediff.com that the judgment was one more step in the right direction.
"We lost our son and daughter in the tragedy. The compensation cannot make up for our loss."
"We filed this petition along with others who lost their near and dear ones in the fire and sought exemplary damages to the tune of Rs 100 crore (Rs one billion), not because we wanted money but because we wanted this case to make others, including business establishments and authorities, aware of their responsibilities and ensure the safety of cinema goers," Shekhar Krishnamurthy told rediff.com.
The theatre is owned by the Ansal brothers Gopal and Sushil, who are part of the family, which owns Ansal Builders.
"The Ansals had been operating the theatre illegally since 1984 on the basis of a stay obtained from the Delhi High Court. The licensing branch did not move the court to get the stay vacated."
"It is amazing that the theatre was screening films illegally for 14 years and yet nobody said a word about it."
The theatre was sealed after the tragedy to enable investigations.
It is now in the custody of the CBI as the Ansals are among 14 persons facing criminal charges under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 304A (causing injury and death due to negligence), 337, 338 (both relate to causing grievous hurt to persons) and 36 (common intent) of the IPC, and Section 14 of the Indian Cinematography Act.
A trial court is seized of the case.
"The Ansals moved both the trial court as well as the Delhi HC to get the building back from the CBI's custody. The courts, however, did not oblige," Vikas Pahwa, advocate for the Uphaar Victims Association told rediff.com.
"They will have no right to transfer, assign or create third party rights in the cinema building," the court said on Thursday.
While delivering over 200-page judgment, the two judges noted how rules were bent to allow commercial benefits to the owners. For example, fire safety rules were ignored and extra chairs placed to increase capacity.
The judges have told the Ansals to pay Rs 2.5 crore (Rs 25 million) for construction of a trauma centre in Delhi.
"It is a good judgment and will have far reaching implications for cinema owners. New guidelines would be drafted and all cinema owners in India would have to adhere to them."
"If we calculate the damages along with interest it comes to about Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million). Thirty-four adults and 25 children lost their lives in the tragedy while 104 were injured," Pahwa said.
But for the families of the victims, the job is far from being over."We are now awaiting the judgment in the trail court, which has recorded evidence of 104 witnesses. We hope it would be delivered soon," said Shekhar Krishnamurthy.
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