June 13, 2015

A 6000 day wait on justice: The Uphaar tragedy commiserations

A mother always remembers, Neelam Krishnamurthy had said two years – 730 days – ago. She had been talking about the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire in which her teenage daughter and her son died. It’s been 18 years since that fateful day but she still counts the days like an imprisoned person. “6570 days.” 

Krishnamurthy is one of many awaiting closure while Supreme Court deliberates the sentence to be given out to the real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal – the owners of Uphaar who were convicted for willful negligence causing death on March 5 last year. 

Another evidence tampering case against the Ansal brothers is pending before the Patiala House Courts Complex Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sanjay Khanangal. The 56-year-old Krishnamurthy has never missed a single hearing in the case that’s stretched on for nine years.

“You would be my daughter’s age,” she can be heard telling the younger reporters who perchance upon her in the district courts.

Meanwhile SC continues to deliberate on the question of quantum of punishment to be given to the Ansal Brothers. It was sent to a larger Bench for determination last year.

The fire in Uphaar cinema located in South Delhi broke out during the screening of the movie Border. Fifty-nine corpses were recovered. Corners’ reports show that they suffocated to their deaths. During investigation it was revealed that the Ansals’ building did not comply with fire safety standards. One of the Fire Exits was blocked by extra seats, so the trapped victims could not get out of the burning hall.

“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 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 and owners of public spaces that they cannot endanger human lives to fill their coffers,” AVUT (Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy) president Krishnamurthy said.

On Saturday June 13, the AVUT will hold held a prayer meeting marking the 18 years which have passed since they lost their loved ones. 

They are demanding the sentence of the Ansal Brothers be decided by SC in an expeditious manner; they want the evidence tampering case in the district court to be finally heard. 

“It’s been “6570 days,” says Krishnamurthy speaking for all the living victims of the tragedy  “Don’t we deserve justice?”

(A shorter, modified, version of this article appeared in an edition of the Hindustan Times June 13, 2015 papers)

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