Uphaar Fire Tragedy: A Year On, Supreme Court Yet to Decide on Sentencing

59 people were killed in a fire in Uphaar Cinema in Delhi in 1997

New Delhi:

It was in March last year that the conviction of businessmen Sushil and Gopal Ansal was upheld by the Supreme Court for criminal negligence leading to the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy which killed 59 people and injured hundred others in 1997.

But a year on, arguments for the sentencing is yet to begin - the bench of judges hearing the case could not agree on quantum of sentence.

The case is likely to come up for hearing in April. But the families of the victims are not very hopeful.

"If the matter is listed at the bottom, then months may pass before the hearing actually takes place," said Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost both her teenage children in the fire.

The Uphaar case is just one of 16,000 criminal cases in the Supreme Court which are pending to be heard or disposed off.

"Delay in the disposal of a case where the delay is not caused by the client but by nature of the proceedings in the trial court, High Court, Supreme Court and the overcrowding of the calendars, is an additional torture in the punishment you might get and it also causes serious injustice apart from anything else," said senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani who is defending the Ansal brothers. "Commission after commission have reported that we need five times the number of judges that we have today," he added.

But experts point out that it's not just the imbalance between the number of cases and courts and judges which is to blame.

Even a case which shook the collective conscience of the country - the brutal gang-rape and murder of a student on a moving bus in Delhi in 2012 - is stuck in the Supreme Court. The trial court had wrapped up the proceedings in eight months, and the Delhi High Court in six months, but the appeal against the latter's order has only been heard thrice since last year in the top court.

"The father rightly said nothing is happening in the Supreme Court," said Dushyant Dave, senior Supreme court lawyer. "Now the Supreme Court has time to take cases of politicians like Jayalalithaa, but doesn't have time to take cases like this. This is why I am making a serious frontal attack on the judges, 'you need to change your mindset you need to change your approach'," he said.