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Uphaar tragedy: Delhi court convicts Ansals

Last updated on: November 20, 2007 12:57 IST

A Delhi court on Tuesday convicted all 12 accused, including theatre owners Sushil and Gopal Ansal, in the Uphaar fire tragedy case.

Reading out portions of the 950-page judgment, Additional Sessions Judge Mamata Sehgal held the two brothers and owners of Uphaar cinema guilty of gross negligence under Articles 304 A, 337 and 338.

The court will pronounce the quantum of punishment to be awarded to 12 convicts on Wednesday.

All the three DVB officials, three managers and one gate-keeper of Uphaar cinema were found guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which prescribes maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

"They can be sent to imprisonment for two years along with fine. But there is always a possibility of error of judgment," Prem Kumar, advocate for the two brothers told media persons.

The case pertains to the tragedy that occurred on June 13, 1997, when a fire broke out at the popular theatre during a screening of the film Border. A transformer installed in the basement of the theatre had caught fire. Fifty nine people had died in the tragedy.

Originally, 16 people were named as the accused in the case, but four of them have died in the last ten years. Gopal and Sushil Ansal delayed the hearing by moving the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court on several legal counts, including the compensation to be given to the victims' families.

The trial was expedited after the Delhi High Court directed that it should be concluded by August 2007. The verdict was originally scheduled for August 21, but Judge Sehgal reserved it for September 5. The judge then adjourned the verdict to a later date.

The CBI examined 115 witnesses, including eight relatives of Ansals who later turned hostile.

The case attracted further attention when a court employee was dismissed from service for tampering with the court documents, allegedly at the behest of the main accused.

The relatives of the victims joined hands to form a body -- Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy -- to fight the legal battle in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. Neelam Krishnamoorthy is the convenor of this association, which has fought a relentless battle against the powerful Ansals.

The CBI had contended that the hall owners were directly and criminally negligent in the management of the theatre, in which people died of asphyxia as a result of the fire caused by the Delhi Vidyut Board transformer installed on the ground floor.

Ansals had even claimed that they were not the theatre owners and they were coerced by the DVB to allow the installation of the transformer in the theatre premises. However, the CBI contended that the owners were liable for the tragedy as the emergency safety measures were not in place. The theatre had turned into a gas chamber as the exit doors of the balcony were closed, and the audience was trapped inside. All the victims dies of asphyxia, said the CBI.

Onkar Singh in New Delhi