“Did order removal of extra seats”
NEW DELHI: Reacting to media reports that his role would be investigated in the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy case, senior Indian Police Service officer Amod Kanth on Saturday said the Central Bureau of Investigation had thoroughly investigated his role earlier and mentioned in the charge sheet the efforts made by him to remove additional seats from the Capital’s cinema halls way back in 1979.
Addressing a press conference here, Mr. Kanth said during his tenure as Deputy Commissioner of Police (Licensing), he fought a “battle with the powerful cinema-owners’ lobby and approached the authorities concerned for removal of extra seats from 50 halls including Uphaar cinema”.
He said it was entirely due to the statutory advice of the technical authorities following their physical inspections under the monitoring and orders of the Delhi High Court that led to the retention of 37 and removal of 63 seats in cinema halls.
Mr. Kanth said after his tenure was over in 1980, the CBI found that in 1981, 15 more seats were allowed in the balcony of Uphaar cinema by his successor on the “technical advice” of S.N. Dandona, the then Public Works Department executive engineer and an accused in the Uphaar case.
Mr. Kanth said some reports in a section of the media insinuated that he deliberately and knowingly turned a blind eye to the safety precautions laid down in the Delhi Cinematograph Rules, 1953, by blocking certain gangways and retaining 37 extra seats denying the exit to the balcony. He said soon after taking over as DCP (Licensing) he had in fact thoroughly examined the issue of additional seats in 50 cinema halls of the city and approached the authorities to withdraw the notifications granting the relaxations.
“Uphaar cinema had also been allowed to operate 100 additional seats, including 43 in the balcony. I issued orders dated July 28, 1979, to all cinema licensees, including Uphaar, to remove all the 100 additional seats,” said Mr. Kanth. He said 42 writ petitions were filed in the Delhi High Court against his orders.
During the trial in the Uphaar case, an application was filed under Section 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on behalf of the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy seeking to summon Mr. Kanth to be tried as an accused for permitting retention of 37 seats in the balcony in violation of the Cinematograph Act which became a cause for the tragedy.
“Sector 319 of the CrPC empowers a court to proceed against a person in the course of inquiry into, or trial of, an offence, if it appears from the evidence that any person not being the accused has committed any offence for which such person could not be tried together with the accused, the court may proceed against such person for the offence which appears to have committed. This issue was repeatedly raised during the trial and argued at length, but the court did not find a single evidence or ground to proceed, and finally, disposed of the matter in the judgement giving the CBI liberty to make use of reports and statement recorded during the trial of present case,” said a statement released on behalf of Mr. Kanth.