SC lets Ansal brothers out on bail: All you need to know about the Uphaar fire tragedy case
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court said owners of the cinema Gopal and Sushil Ansal will not be jailed for the in case and fined them Rs 60 crore instead.
It was a Friday, 13 June, 1997, the day JP Dutta's war epic Border was released. Just like any other theatre, Uphaar Cinema in Green Park, Delhi, was jam-packed with eager cinemagoers, who had all poured in for the multi-starrer. It was an evening 3.00-6.00 pm show. A nearby faulty transformer in the car park of the cinema hall caught fire, which started spreading and engulfed a few cars in the parking. The flames reached the Cinema Hall building and a great tragedy followed.
Fifty nine people, mostly children died in the fire, most of them suffocated, trapped inside the hall as extra seats had blocked the dimly-lit exits. Over a 100 were injured.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court said owners of the cinema Gopal and Sushil Ansal will not be jailed for the case and imposed a fine Rs 60 crore instead.
Here we take a look at the major developments in the case over the years:
Initial inquiry into the incident lead to an 86-page report that held cinema management, Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB), city fire service, the Delhi police's licensing branch and municipal corporation responsible for the incident saying "it contributed to the mishap through their acts of omission and commission".
The report also observed that the movie was not stopped nor any announcement made to evacuate the audience when the fire broke out at about 4.45 pm.
Union Home Ministry transferred the case to CBI. On 15 November, 1997, CBI filed a chargesheet against 16 accused, including theatre owners Sushil and Gopal Ansal, for causing death by negligence and endangering life.
The Ansals were held guilty by a sessions court in Delhi a decade after the tragedy. According to a report in The Hindu dated 21 November, 2007, Additional Sessions Judge Mamata Sehgal convicted the Ansal brothers under Section 304-A (causing death due to negligence) of the IPC along with sections dealing with endangering the personal safety of others. The two were found guilty under the Cinematography Act too and were sentenced to two years of rigorous imprisonment.
The Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy' (AVUT) sought civil compensation from the owners of the theatre. On 24 April, 2003 the Delhi High Court found Ansal brothers, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB), and licensing authorities 'guilty of negligence'.
The Delhi High Court ordered Rs 25 crore in compensation to the victims of the fire tragedy. The judgment was hailed as a historic one.
The high court directed the cinema owners to pay 55 percent of the compensation as the Ansals were the maximum beneficiaries of the profit earned from the cinema hall. The MCD, DVB and licensing authorities, each were to contribute 15 percent of the remaining 45 percent amount, the order said.
In a huge blow to the families of the victims of the Uphaar fire tragedy, the Supreme Court on 13 October, 2011, nearly halved the sum of compensation awarded to them by the Delhi High Court and slashed punitive damages to be paid by cinema owners Ansal brothers from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 25 lakh.
A bench headed by Justice RV Raveendran reduced the amount of compensation from Rs 18 lakh to Rs 10 lakh to the families of deceased above 20 years of age and for the victims below 20 years, it was reduced to Rs 7.5 lakh from Rs 15 lakh.
The Supreme Court, on 5 March, 2014, upheld the conviction of Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal in the 1997 Uphaar cinema tragedy. A bench of justices TS Thakur and Gyan Sudha Mishra (since retired) had on 5 March, 2014, held real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal guilty, but differed on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to them.
It had concurred in holding that there was "contemptuous disregard" of civic laws on part of the Ansals that led to the tragedy as they were "more interested in making money than ensuring safety of people".
The final verdict
The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 19 August, 2015, allowed the Ansal brothers to walk free in the case on furnishing of a whopping fine of Rs 30 crore each within three months.
Awarding the jail term for a period already undergone by the industrialists, the three-judge bench of Justices AR Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel asked them to pay the total fine of Rs 60 crore in three months and deposit it with the Delhi government, which in turn will spend the money on welfare schemes.
While Sushil Ansal has spent over five months in prison, Gopal has spent jail time of over four months.
The bench rejected the submissions of senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for CBI, that the convicts be sent to jail to serve the remaining jail term.
With inputs from PTI
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