Shock Ending to Uphaar Fire Tragedy Leaves Victims Reeling

Uphaar victims

Photographs of the 59 victims of the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy at a prayer meeting organised by their families. Credit: AVUT

New Delhi: “I have lost faith in the criminal justice system today. I regret having pursued the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy case so vigorously in the courts for 18 years. I should have just gone out and killed those responsible for the death of my two children and 57 others. I would have been out of jail by now and would have also got justice for them,” said a completely shattered Neelam Krishnamoorthy, convener of the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy, after the Supreme Court allowed convicted industrialists Sushil and Gopal Ansal to walk free today upon payment of a fine of Rs 30 crore each.

Krishnamoorthy, who had lost both her children in the fire tragedy in 1997 and had braved intimidation and threats along the way while seeking justice, said the order of the three-judge bench of Justices A R Dave, Kurian Joseph and Adarsh Kumar Goel, sentencing the Ansals to a jail term equal to the period already served by them, was gross injustice to the victims. “Our lawyer, K.T.S. Tulsi, was not even properly heard today whereas senior advocate Ram Jethmalani spoke for a good part of the hearing,” she complained.

Though senior advocate Harish Salve, who appeared for the Central Bureau of Investigation, had demanded that the Ansals be made to serve their full term, the Bench found the five months in prison spent by Sushil Ansal and the over four months spent by Gopal enough for the purpose of a jail term.

As for the fine of Rs 30 crore each imposed on both the industrialists, Krishnamoorthy said it was shocking that the convicts are being allowed to walk free on payment of money. “Is justice up for sale? Moreover, the money would be paid to the Delhi government, which is as much responsible for the tragedy as others since its departments were responsible for the issue of licences. So, in a way we are awarding those who committed the crime. It is ironical that both the Ansals who took the licence and the Delhi Government which issued them stand to gain in the bargain.”

Asking “what message has this order sent out to the ordinary citizens,” Krishnamoorthy said, “it would shock everyone’s conscience. People are getting to see here how the rich and powerful manage to get away.”

Drawing a parallel to the Nitish Katara murder case in which the Supreme Court recently upheld the conviction of the three accused, she said that after that verdict – in which the court upheld the findings of the trial and High Court – she had been confident of getting justice in the matter, despite the apex court taking 17 months to decide on her plea on enhancing the sentence of the convicts. “But overriding the findings of the trial court, High Court and Supreme Court, the bench has allowed the convicts to walk free.”

“It is a sad day for the criminal justice system in India. Following the South Korean ferry disaster, the courts there had acted expeditiously in the matter and given a life term to the captain for abandoning the vessel, leading to the death of a large number of children. This was a similar case. The outcome, however, is very different. I just hope the media takes up the cudgels with me to secure justice for the 59 dead, but a great part of the hope I had died today. ”

  • Opinion FromAvailableInfo

    I am feeling so bad after reading this.. Really as a child I saw this tragedy and dreaded what those people suffered inside that theatre..