Two Decades After the Uphaar Cinema Fire, Families of Victims Still Battling for Justice

The families are opposing the mercy plea filed by the accused Gopal Ansal, which the home ministry has forwarded to the AAP government and the lieutenant governor for inputs.

Fifty nine were killed in the fire at Uphaar Cinema in Delhi on June 13, 1997. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Exactly 20 years ago, on June 13, 1997, 59 lives were lost in a fire at Uphaar Cinema in South Delhi, and as the friends and relatives of the victims gathered today to mourn their loss, there was also a sense of dismay for being “denied justice” in the case.

Not only is the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy not satisfied with the judgment in the case delivered by the Supreme Court on February 9, it also believes that through a mercy petition, attempts are being made to even deny whatever sense of solace the order may have provided.

The petition has been filed by the noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani on behalf of Gopal Ansal, the builder and owner of the cinema hall, who was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.

Victims disappointed with judgment

In a statement, Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who had lost both her children, Unnav and Unnati, in the tragedy, said the victims waited tirelessly for two decades only to be “deeply disappointed and distressed by the judgement they finally received”.

Stating that the “verdict is certain to go down in history as a travesty of justice,” she said that it showed a “pro-establishment mindset”.

“Such a judgement will only embolden the owners of public spaces to violate safety rules and compromise on safety, with no thought of endangering human lives. It is a well-known fact that law breakers are always ahead of law makers, but it is for the courts to see that justice is done and law breakers are brought to book,” said the aggrieved mother who has over the last 20 years waged a battle against the accused despite being gravely threatened.

Since the apex court had shown leniency towards the main accused on account of his age, Krishnamoorthy questioned this reasoning saying there were a plethora of Supreme Court judgements in which the court had incarcerated convicts for life despite their old age.

She cited a recent  judgement (Abdul Wahid vs State Of UP) in a 40-year-old case in which the Supreme Court sentenced a 90-year-old man to life imprisonment.

“Age of the appellant and the time elapsed since occurrence is of no relevance. Undue sympathy would do more harm to criminal justice system in addition to undermining the public confidence in the efficacy of the system,” she said.

‘Fit to play golf, not to serve jail term’

In the light of the reasoning provided by the apex court, she also demanded to know why in the case of accused Sushil Ansal, who at 76 is “fit to play golf, carry on his business activities and also make plans to relocate overseas”, the Supreme Court had found him too old to serve the jail time.

The court had while reviewing its 2015 judgment ordered a one-year jail term to Gopal but allowed the elder brother Sushil to walk free because of his age after he had served a five-month sentence. Krishnamoorthy said she has learnt that now attempts are being made to secure a mercy plea for Gopal as well.

Jethmalani files mercy plea, MHA forwards it to L-G

“We have also received information recently that a mercy petition has been filed on behalf of Gopal Ansal by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani. The same has been received by the Ministry of Home Affairs and forwarded to the lieutenant governor of Delhi for his opinion,” Krishnamoorthy said.

“We are shocked that the Ministry of Home Affairs has bothered to entertain such a blatantly undeserving petition on behalf of a convicted mass murderer. We trust that our hopes will not be dashed further by the L-G by entertaining this petition.”

Talking to The Wire, Krishnamoorthy said she would be appealing to both the L-G Anil Baijal and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to oppose the mercy petition as and when it reaches them.

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