Seventeen years after the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy claimed lives of 59 cinegoers on June 13, 1997, the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) on Friday said it hoped the Ansal brothers – the owners of the cinema hall – are sentenced in keeping with the gravity of the offence.
Sushil and Gopal Ansal’s conviction had been upheld by the Supreme Court on March 5 but since it differed on the quantum of punishment, the determination of sentence was referred to a larger Bench.
As many as 59 people lost their lives when fire broke out in the theatre during the screening of Border . Many of the victims were suffocated to death as one of the exit was closed by putting up extra seats in the gangway, in complete disregard to the safety norms.
“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 president Neelam Krishnamoorthy said.
On Friday, the AVUT held a prayer meeting marking the 17th death anniversary of the Uphaar fire victims. At the meeting held opposite the Uphaar cinema hall, it appealed to the Centre to bring in a new legislation to deal with man-made disasters pending for past five years.
The victims’ families said their stand was vindicated when the apex court convicted the Ansal brothers after their sustained and prolonged legal battle and held that they had endangered safety of cinegoers by making structural changes in the theatre, but it has been in vain as they are still waiting for the Ansal brothers to be sentenced.
While awaiting the apex court’s decision on the quantum of sentence, the AVUT said: “Our courts have not learnt from their counterparts in other countries who have dealt sternly and swiftly with regard to tragedies involving human lives. In the recent judgment by an Italian court in the Asbestos case, the courts have sentenced the accused to 18 years in jail and have ordered him to pay tens of millions of Euros to local authorities and the victim’s family.”
Similarly, the AVUT said: “The owner of the República de Cromañón nightclub in Buenos Aires was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2004 blaze that killed 194 music fans. These verdicts are in sharp contrast to the conservative judgments passed by our courts. The law is being administered by our courts for law’s sake and not for justice.”
Punishment should always be proportionate to/commensurate with the gravity of the offence, and economic or social status of the accused, AVUT said, adding that long pendency of the criminal trial cannot be construed as a factor for reducing the sentence.