The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Verdict lights fires of rage
- Realtor barons guilty of lesser offence in Uphaar case

New Delhi, Nov 20: Twelve days in jail for each person killed — this is how a mother who lost her two children in the Uphaar fire sees the punishment handed out by the trial court to the theatre’s owners.

Additional sessions judge Mamta Sehgal today found Sushil and Gopal Ansal guilty of negligence that led to the death of 59 people on June 13, 1997.

Section 304A, under which the Ansals were convicted, carries a maximum jail sentence of two years or a fine or both. The Ansals are big players in real estate.

The court will pronounce the sentences tomorrow.

The victims had suffocated to death after a fire broke out in the basement of the theatre that was then showing Border. A spark in a faulty transformer in the basement started the blaze.

“If you kill a chinkara (the deer Salman Khan is accused of shooting), you get five years. How can the accused get by with two years, which, if you account for the 59 deaths, will be around 12 days behind bars for each death,” said Neelam Krishnamurthy, who lost her 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.

The Ansals were also charged under Sections 337 and 338, which relate to causing hurt and grievous hurt to others by any act endangering life or personal safety and carry jail terms of six months or a fine or both.

Sehgal also convicted 10 other accused, mostly civic officials responsible for ensuring that emergency fire safety measures were in place in the theatre. Among them were MCD officials Shyam Sunder Sharma and N.D. Tiwari and Delhi fire service officer H.S. Panwar.

Like the Ansals, the three were convicted on the lesser charge of “causing deaths by (their) negligent acts”.

But three Delhi Vidyut Board officials and three managers and a gatekeeper of the theatre were found guilty of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” under Section 304, which carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

The seven who face life terms are Radha Krishnan Sharma, Nirmal Singh Chopra, Ajit Chaudhary, Manmohan Unniyal, Brij Mohan, Anand Kumar Gera, Vir Singh and Har Swaroop Pawar.

The Vidyut Board officials were accused of installing the transformer in the theatre basement in violation of norms.

Families of the dead, led by the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy, said the Ansals should also have been charged under Section 304.

“They had ample knowledge… of the state of things in the theatre,” said Krishanmurthy, who is convener of the association.

In its chargesheet against the Ansals, the CBI had said they were directly and criminally liable for failing to ensure fire safety in the theatre.

The Ansals, however, claimed that the Vidyut Board had forced them to install the transformer in the basement. They had even contended that they did not own the place.

The association will appeal against the verdict in the high court. The Ansals also plan to appeal against the conviction.

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