On June 13, 1997, halfway through the screening of Border, a fire consumed Uphaar Cinema, situated in south Delhi’s Green Park area. 59 people were killed because of asphyxiation, while over 100 were injured in the fire and the ensuing stampede.
18 years hence, families which have been waiting for a closure of some form, stand far from being served justice by the Supreme Court’s judgement, with theatre owners Sushil and Gopal Ansal being let off the hook with a fine of Rs 60 crore.
On July 22, 1997, Uphaar theatre owner Sushil Ansal and his son Pranav were arrested in Mumbai, following which the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the probe from the Delhi Police.
On November 15, 1997, the CBI filed its first charge-sheet in the case against the 16 accused, including Sushil and Gopal Ansal.
Four years after, on February 27, 2001, the Court framed charges against the accused – culpable homicide, causing hurt and causing death by negligent act – under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
In 2003, the Delhi High Court announced a compensation of Rs 18 crore to be paid to the next of kin of the victims with nine percent interest, wherein the Ansals were asked to foot 85% of the compensation amount. However, eight years later, the Supreme Court halved this compensation amount. In what proved to be a setback for those who had survived the tragedy, and those who had lost members of their families, the SC reduced the compensation for the deceased (below 20 years) from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 7.5 lakh. For those above 20 years who had died in the fire, their families were given get Rs 10 lakh from the earlier promised sum of Rs 18 lakh, while the compensation for the injured remained Rs 1 lakh.
On November 20, 2007, the Court convicted all 12 accused, including Sushil and Gopal Ansal, in the case, awarding a sentence of two years imprisonment to the guilty.
Soon after, the Ansal brothers were granted bail by the Court on January 4, 2008. However, on September 11, the Supreme Court cancelled their bail. On December 19, the Delhi High Court upheld the trial court’s order convicting the Ansal brothers. However, the HC reduced their sentence from two years to one year, while upholding the conviction of six out of the 12 accused.
In 2009, the CBI filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, seeking an enhancement of sentence for the Ansals.
Five years later, on March 5, 2014, the SC upheld the Ansals’ conviction, but referred the matter to a three-judge bench on the issue of quantum of punishment due to a difference in opinion.
More than a year later, the Ansals got away on Wednesday afternoon with a fine of Rs 60 crore, which needs to be paid within the next three months.