In a judgement that has caused consternation is some quarters, the apex court on Thursday sent one of the Ansal brothers, owners of Uphaar cinema, to jail for one year in connection with the fire in 1997 that killed 59 movie-goers in south Delhi.
Gopal Ansal, who has already spent four months in jail, will be incarcerated. Meanwhile, his brother, Sushil Ansal, 77, was spared jail time because of his age. In its judgement, the court said that there was evidence to send them behind bars for two years, but their age was grounds for not imprisoning them. It was the same court, which had upheld the 10-year jail term of former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala, who is well into his 80s, in the teachers' recruitment scam case, rejecting any scope for leeway due to his old age.
The top court had earlier levied a fine of Rs 30 crore on the Ansal brothers to be paid as compensation to the immediate families of the victims. For the likes of Neelam Krishnamurthy, who lost her son and daughter to the fire, this verdict indeed comes as a major disappointment. "The SC judgment shows the rich have special rights and can walk away after killing children by paying for a trauma centre," she said. It was nearly 20 years ago when 59 innocent lives were snuffed out in the terrible Uphaar Fire Tragedy during an afternoon screening of Bollywood film Border.
Less than 20 years later, there is still no closure for the victims of the family. It was gross negligence on the part of the Ansals which led to this tragedy. There were several factors which cumulatively added to make Uphaar a tinderbox waiting to be engulfed in flames.
For the uninitiated, asphyxia was the leading cause of death. The cinema building had caught fire earlier too in 1989, and no corrective steps were taken to correct it. The staff tried to douse the fire themselves, which resulted in smoke getting sucked in by the AC duct and spreading to the entire building. Furthermore, exits were closed, and there was no outlet for the smoke. Delay in informing the fire department and delayed response from Delhi fire service was perhaps the biggest culprit.
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