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'Justice, Finally': Neelam Krishnamoorthy on Ansals' Sentencing in Uphaar Case

"As a mother, I have kept the promise that I had made to my children 24 years ago. Justice has been done."

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Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Sandeep Suman

"I'm at peace because I know my children are at peace. I'm a firm believer that there can be no peace without justice. Justice has been done."

Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost her two children to the fire at Delhi's Uphaar cinema in June 1997, and has since been fighting a long battle to get justice, spoke exclusively to The Quint, after a Delhi court sentenced the owners – Sushil and Gopal Ansal – to seven years in jail, for tampering with evidence in the case. 59 people, including 23 children, died in the Uphaar cinema fire 24 years ago.

"This verdict has restored my faith in the judicial system, which was shattered on 19 August 2015, when the Supreme Court allowed the Ansals to walk free, after paying a fine of Rs 30 crore each for a trauma centre," said Krishnamoorthy.

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'Have Kept Promise Made to My Children'

On 13 June 1997, Neelam's life came crashing down when both her children – Unnati (17) and Ujjawal (13) – died in a fire at Uphaar cinema in Delhi's Green Park where they had gone to watch Border.

In the last 24 years, Neelam and her husband Shekhar have recounted the day's happenings numerous times – how excited her children were to watch the movie on the first day of its release, how the family had lunch before the children left in the afternoon, and how Unnati planted a kiss on her mother's cheek before she left with her brother for the 3:15 pm show.

Since the tragedy, Neelam and her husband Shekhar, along with others who lost their loved ones in the fire, have dedicated their lives to the fight for justice.

As a mother, I have succeeded and I have kept the promise that I had made to my children 24 years ago. The journey has not been easy. A lot of times, I was threatened, intimidated, humiliated, and mocked at, during the court hearings. But the mother in me kept reminding me of the promise that I had made to my children. Just because my children are no more, I have not stopped being a mother.
Neelam Krishnamoorthy, Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy

What Unfolded on the Fateful Day

As per the magisterial probe of the incident, there was a spark in the transformer on the ground floor of the cinema hall around 4:55 pm, which reportedly caused a fire, charring cars in the parking lot.

Soon, toxic smoke filled the pitch-dark main auditorium. People seated on the balcony started running for the exit doors but there were not enough exits. This finds mentions in the magisterial probe done within a month of the tragedy, along with the fact that there was no public announcement system to alert people.

Unnati and Ujjwal were seated on the balcony on the extreme right hand corner. 59 people seated at the right side of the balcony, asphyxiated to death that day, out of which 23 were children.
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The magisterial probe held Sushil and Gopal Ansal, owners of Uphaar cinema, the Delhi Vidyut Board, and the city fire service responsible for the tragedy.

The Ansals had put in 52 extra seats in the balcony and a box for their own family, thereby completely blocking the exits on the right side of the balcony, the probe report said. These very exits could have saved the lives of Neelam Krishnamoorthy’s children and 57 others who were seated there. Over 100 people were injured in the stampede that ensued.

After serving the first two years in jail, the Supreme Court in August 2015 allowed the Ansals to walk free and asked them to pay a fine of Rs 30 crore each, which would be utilised to build a trauma centre in the national capital. In 2019, however, the court issued a non-bailable warrant against the two in a case of alleged tampering of evidence.

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'Rich and Powerful Are Not Above Law'

On 8 November 2021, a Delhi court sentenced the Ansal brothers to seven years in prison, for tampering with evidence of the case. The duo have also been asked to pay Rs 2.5 crore each.

After news of the sentencing broke, Neelam said, "Ansals interfered in the administration of justice. They have shown total disregard and disrespect for the law and judicial process of the country."

This is a very unique case in which the most crucial documents, which were relevant to show the financial and day-to-day involvement of the Ansals, in the running of the Uphaar cinema, were tampered with. These were cheques that were signed in 1996-97 and the MD's conference, which was very relevant to show the involvement of the Ansals. They felt that since they are rich and powerful, they are above the law. They can engage the best of the legal teams and get away with the crime. And that they will never have to face the consequences.
Neelam Krishnamoorthy, Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy

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