15 years after Uphaar fire: Victims' kin await justice

Even after 15 years of the Uphaar cinema fire, the families of the 59 people who died in the incident await justice. 

They say they have been left "disillusioned" by the judiciary and dismayed by the government's apathy.

On June 13, 1997, during the screening of Hindi film "Border", a fire engulfed the theatre, killing 59 people and injuring over 100 in the subsequent stampede. 

The fire was sparked by a blast in a transformer in an underground parking lot in the five-storey building which housed the cinema hall and several offices.

Neelam Krishnamoorthy, president of the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), who lost her two children in the fire, told IANS that she was frustrated with the fact that several cases were lying pending in the courts.

"We are not an NGO fighting for someone else's cause. We are the victims here. We feel disillusioned and dejected. After 15 years, we haven't got any justice," she said.

"AVUT appealed to the home minister (P. Chidambaram) in September 2010 to grant sanction for prosecuting Amod Kanth (a former Delhi Police officer) but they replied that as the matter is sub-judice, they cannot intervene," she said.

The kin of the victims have sought permission to prosecute Kanth for allegedly allowing extra seats in the cinema hall, leading to closure of one of its exits.

However, the fact that there is still no law to tackle another tragedy like Uphaar is exasperating, said Krishnamoorthy who wrote letters to United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in 2011, the then law and justice minister Veerappa Moily in 2009 and the Law and Justice Minister Salman Khurshid in 2011.

"I got promises but the reality is that a proposal for a legislation to prevent such manmade tragedies is still pending with the Law Commission since 2009," she said. 

In December 2008, the Delhi High Court sentenced owners of the theatre, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, to one year prison term. They were released on bail within a month.

The families of the victims will hold a prayer meeting Wednesday to mark the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.

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