Neelam Krishnamoorthy’s teenage son and daughter were among the 59 asphyxiated inside the theatre in South Delhi in 1997

“I spent 17 years running around to ensure justice for the victims. I could have spent all those moments with my children had they been alive,” said Neelam Krishnamoorthy after the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Ansal brothers on Wednesday in the Uphaar Grand fire case.

Ms. Krishnamoorthy’s teenage son and daughter were among the 59 asphyxiated inside the theatre in South Delhi in 1997. Ms. Krishnamoorthy, convenor of the Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), and her husband Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, have been the flag-bearers in the fight to seek justice on behalf of all the victims.

Ms. Krishnamoorthy said while they are seeking maximum punishment for the accused, they are satisfied with the “positive judgment”.

“The judgment is very important for all of us because people tried to paint it as an accident. But the truth was that it happened due to gross negligence guided by profit motive. It is, however, tragic that it took us 17 years to prove that my children went to Uphaar cinema, there were deviations in the theatre done by the occupiers, and 59 people lost their lives due to it. There is a serious problem with our criminal justice system,” she said.

M. L. Sehgal, who lost his 21-year-old son Vikas in the tragedy, said he is hopeful that “the judgment would act as a deterrent for the rich who otherwise manage to get away with everything”.

“Nothing can bring closure for us after the loss that we had to bear. However, I just hope that the sentencing would act as a deterrent for the corporate and rich people operating big market complexes and hospitals. Many of them manage to get away with NOCs and other formalities in lieu of money. I hope this judgment would be a message for such people,” said Mr. Sehgal, who retired as a government servant in 2007.

Struggling to control his tears, Mr. Sehgal recalled that he lost his son on his birthday and rued the fact that “he himself gave him money to watch that film on that fateful day”.

Reacting to the opinion of one of the justices “that the enhanced punishment could be undergone if the accused were willing to pay Rs.100 crore to construct a trauma centre”, the kin of the victims pleaded that “such a penalty should not be slapped at the cost of lesser punishment”.

“There is already a trauma centre near Safdarjung Hospital, which came up after directions from the Delhi High Court after we pleaded for it. Maximum punishment should be given to the accused in this case,” said Kanwal Bhalla, who lost her Armyman husband in the tragedy.

A homemaker and mother of three daughters and a son, Ms. Bhalla and one of her daughters escaped unhurt in the incident.

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