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3-min read

18 years after Uphaar tragedy, victims still await justice, ask Narendra Modi if 'achhe din' will ever come for them

After a lengthy trial, brothers Sushil and Gopal Ansal were found guilty of "causing death by negligent" charge.


Updated:June 13, 2015, 12:13 PM IST
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18 years after Uphaar tragedy, victims still await justice, ask Narendra Modi if 'achhe din' will ever come for them
After a lengthy trial, brothers Sushil and Gopal Ansal were found guilty of "causing death by negligent" charge.

It has been 18 years since the fire in Uphaar cinema on June 13, 1997 killed 59 people and injured over 100 but the victims still await justice. The tragedy took place during the screeing of Bollywood blockbuster 'Border' which was about the 1971 India-Pakistan war.

Quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi's promise of 'Achhe Din', the exasperated victims have appealed to the Prime Minster to improve the justice delivery system. "Even though the country is supposed to be heading for ‘Achhe Din’ under the leadership of our Prime Minister, it seems there will never be any ‘Achhe Din’ for Uphaar victims unless they get justice for their loved ones. We as bereaved families are definitely not proud Indians when, despite our best and most sincere efforts, the state has failed us in its duty to provide justice for the victims of the Uphaar tragedy in the last two decades," says Neelam Krishnamoorthy President, Association of the Victims of Uphaar tragedy.

Sharing her despair on the 18th anniversary of the tragedy, Neelam, who has been fighting for the cause of the victims, apologised for not having been able to get the guilty behind bars.

"It is with deep pain and despair that we inform our well-wishers that despite following the case relentlessly for the last 18 years, AVUT has failed in its endeavour. As the families of the victims continue to struggle to cope with their unimaginable grief and loss, the convicts are free to carry on with their business activities as usual and enjoy life," she wrote.

After a lengthy trial, brothers Sushil and Gopal Ansal were found guilty of "causing death by negligent" charge. A Delhi trial court awarded them two years' rigorous imprisonment in November 2007. In December 2008, the Delhi High Court reduced the duo's sentences from two years to one year and they were granted bail by the Supreme Court on January 30, 2009. An appeal challenging the one-year sentence is still pending in the apex court.

Though the judges concurred on the findings, there was dissent with regards to the sentencing and the matter was referred to a three judge bench. The primary criteria which the court has considered while sentencing is a prolonged trial the accused have faced and the delay of more than 16 years in the conclusion of proceedings against them. The victims at various stages have approached the High Court for expeditious trial.

Appealing for a stronger punishment, the CBI had contended that the high court had “erroneously” altered the conviction and reduced the sentence despite the fact that the sessions court had on November 20, 2007, held some of the accused guilty for offences under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and the Ansal brothers under Section 304A (causing death due to rash and negligent acts) besides other sections.

"Why should the accused be given the double benefits of first a prolonged trial as it is a well-known fact that it is they who seek adjournments on one pretext or the other, and then a lighter sentence on the grounds of delay. In fact, delaying the trial proceedings is detrimental to the victims," the AVUP said.

It has been one year and three months since the Ansals were convicted by the Supreme Court, but the order on their sentencing is still awaited. "It is unprecedented that an order on sentencing remains pending for over a year after conviction. In the last one year AVUT had moved three applications for early hearing. The matter was finally listed for hearing on April 21, 2015 but we were outraged when once again when the matter was adjourned at the request of the Ansals. How long will we continue to be the victims of this adjournment culture," AVUT asks as it continues to fight a seemingly unending battle.

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