The families of Uphaar fire tragedy victims suffered a major blow with the Supreme Court drastically reducing the quantum of compensation awarded by the Delhi High Court from Rs. 18 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh. In the June 13, 1997 incident in the Delhi cinema, 59 people were killed and 103 sustained injuries.
A Bench of Justices R.V. Raveendran and Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan also reduced the punitive damages payable to the victims by the Ansal brothers, owners of the theatre, from Rs.2.5 crore to Rs.25 lakh. This amount would be shared jointly and severally by the Ansal brothers and the Delhi Vidyut Board.
The Bench said a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh would be paid to each of the families of the deceased above 20 years of age and for the victims under 20, it would be Rs. 7.5 lakh, against Rs. 15 lakh awarded by the High Court. As far as the compensation amount was concerned, the Ansals would pay 85 per cent and the DVB 15 per cent. The Bench was disposing of petitions on award of Rs.18.50 crore compensation by the High Court on April 24, 2003. The Bench held that both the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi Police were not liable to pay any compensation, and absolved them of their liabilities.
On payment of compensation to the injured, the Bench agreed with the High Court's award of Rs. 1 lakh each and gave them liberty to file applications seeking enhancement if they were aggrieved. The Bench directed the cinema owners to follow a set of guidelines to be put in place by the authorities taking note of the recent phenomenon of multiplexes.
It asked the theatres to screen before each show a short documentary of dos and don'ts in case of any emergency arising from a fire.
It directed that theatre staff be properly trained in fire drills and evacuation. There would be a mandatory half-yearly survey of safety measures in theatres by government authorities.
The Bench also suggested that Parliament enact comprehensive legislation on tort, pointing out that at present there was no law governing such claims and liabilities.
While the victims expressed disappointment over the verdict, the Ansal Theatres and Clubhotels Pvt. Ltd (ATCPL), in a statement, said that pursuant to the various orders passed by the Supreme Court it had paid more than Rs. 8 crore as compensation as its share for disbursement. The DVB had also paid its share for disbursement. ATCPL would comply with Thursday's judgment within the stipulated time.
“ATCPL sincerely shares the anguish, pain and grief of the affected families, who lost their loved ones or whose loved ones were injured in the unfortunate tragedy,” the statement said.