Uphaar fire: HC seeks file on plea to try ex-IPS officer

The Centre was on Monday asked by the Delhi High Court to submit a file on the Uphaar theatre fire victims’ plea for grant of sanction to prosecute former IPS officer Amod Kanth for allegedly allowing an extra row of seats in the hall, leading to closure of one of its crucial exits.

Justice Vipin Sanghi directed the counsel for Union Home Ministry to place on record the original file by April 19. The court passed the order after senior counsel K T S Tulsi, appearing for the Uphaar theatre fire victims submitted that the ministry had rejected a plea for grant of sanction to prosecute Kanth saying the matter is subjudice. The lawyer said the government, in its reply to the court, had said it did not grant sanction as prosecuting agency CBI did not send any request for it.

The court passed the order on a plea by ‘Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy’ (AVUT) which had said the Centre had declined their plea for granting sanction to prosecute Kanth for allegedly allowing an extra row of seats in Uphaar Theatre in its upper ‘balcony’ class, leading to the blocking of one of the crucial exits.

A total of 59 people had died in the theatre fire, while over 100 others were injured during the maiden show of blockbuster film ‘Border’ on June 13, 1997. Most of the victims, who had been asphyxiated to death due to fumes sucked by air-condition duct from the fire triggered in a Delhi Vidyut Board transformer installed in the basement of the hall and spewed into the theatre, were seated in the upper-floor classes, balcony and DC, of the theatre.

The High Court had on August 26 last year sought the Centre’s stand on AVUT’s plea for grant of sanction to prosecute Kanth in the 1997 Uphaar theatre fire case. The role of Kanth had come under the scanner when a trial court, while awarding varying jail terms to 12 accused, including theatre owners Sushil and Gopal Ansal in the Uphaar tragedy, had asked the CBI to probe his alleged “acts of commission and omission” in allowing the extra seats.

The CBI, which initially did not comply with the trial court order to file a report on his role, had been reprimanded by the High Court.

The CBI subsequently submitted its report to the trial court, giving Kanth a clean chit in the case, but the court rejected the report and issued summons to Kanth on August 12 last year to face criminal proceedings for allegedly allowing extra seats in the theatre. Challenging the trial court’s order, Kanth had approached the High Court which had refused to impose any interim stay on the trial court proceedings against him. But the trail court was stopped from passing any judgement till the High Court decided Kanth’s plea.

The court had said there was sufficient material to prosecute Kanth under section 304A (causing death by rash and negligent act), 337 (causing hurt by an act which endangers human life) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by an act which endangers human life) of IPC. The court had also observed that there was  prima-facie evidence to prosecute Kanth under the Cinematography Act.

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