Fifteen years after the tragic Uphaar cinema fire, that claimed 59 lives, kin of the victims are still waiting for 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, said that she was frustrated with the fact that several cases were lying pending in the courts. "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 Mr Kanth for allegedly allowing extra seats in the cinema hall, leading to closure of one of its exits.
Mrs Krishnamoorthy has called for stringent laws to avoid repeat of such tragedies. "We have requested the government to bring in a special law to deal with such man made mass tragedies where number one, the sentence should not be restricted to just two years, because normally what they do is anything like this happens they book them under rational negligence act there should be a special law to deal with it where the sentence should be 10-15 years, and anything like this happens there should be a provision for punitive damages and high compensation which will sent a deterrent effect to the owners of such buildings."
She says the fact that there is still no law to tackle another tragedy like Uphaar is exasperating. She wrote letters to 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 about this.
She says, "I got promises but the reality is that a proposal for a legislation to prevent such man-made tragedies is still pending with the Law Commission since 2009."
Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, her husband, says, "We do not understand what the problem is. There should be no political opposition in bringing this law. We have given three years to the UPA government. We have now decided to meet the Members of Parliament across partylines."
The families of the victims will hold a prayer meeting today to mark the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.
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.