1997 Uphaar fire tragedy: SC allows firm to move trial court for de-sealing of cinema hall
Fifty-nine people had died when a fire broke out during the screening of Bollywood movie 'Border' in Uphaar theatre in Green Park area of South Delhi on June 13, 1997
The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed Ansal Theaters and Clubotels Private Ltd, whose former directors were real estate barons Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, to move the trial court for de-sealing of Uphaar cinema hall where 59 cinema-goers had lost their lives in a blaze in 1997.
A bench of Justices KM Joseph, BV Nagarathna and Ahsanuddin Amanullah directed said the trial court may decide the plea, if moved by the firm within 10 weeks, in accordance with law.
The top court recorded the submissions of Delhi Police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), represented by Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, that they do not have any claim over the property.
Nataraj said the due process under the law needs to be followed, for which the appropriate forum is the trial court, from where the property which was under investigation can be sought to be de-sealed.
Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) president Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who appeared in person, submitted the apex court had asked the Ansal brothers to deposit Rs 60 crore for construction of a trauma centre in Delhi.
She said only the Delhi government can tell whether Rs 60 crore was deposited or not, and suggested that its counsel should seek instructions.
The counsel for the Ansal brothers said they have already deposited Rs 60 crore towards the construction of the trauma centre which is to come up at Dwarka. The counsel said now that the trial in the main case is over, the cinema hall, which was sealed nearly 17 years ago, should be de-sealed.
The CBI, which has probed and prosecuted the two owners in the case, had earlier opposed the de-sealing and release of the cinema hall till the completion of the entire trial.
The probe agency and AVUT had contended that the plea seeking trial of IPS officer Amod Kanth, who as the DCP (Licensing) had allegedly allowed retention of 37 extra seats in the theatre in 1979 in violation of the Cinematograph Act, was still pending. Kanth has since retired.
The release of the cinema hall might lead to loss of crucial evidence that extra seats had resulted in closure of the gangway leading to the death of cinema-goers, the AVUT had said.
On April 20, the top court had quashed the trial court proceedings against Kanth over lack of sanction for his prosecution. The top court had held that the magistrate had erred in issuing summons against Kanth.
Fifty-nine people had died when a fire broke out during the screening of Bollywood movie 'Border' in Uphaar theatre in Green Park area of South Delhi on June 13, 1997. Over 100 were injured in the subsequent stampede.
On February 9, 2018, the top court had asked Gopal Ansal to serve a one-year jail term in the fire tragedy case, while his elder brother Sushil Ansal's imprisonment was set off against the term he had already served in jail.
A two-judge bench of the apex court had on March 5, 2014, held Sushil and Gopal Ansal guilty, but differed on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to them after which the matter was heard by a three-judge bench.
The Delhi High Court had on December 19, 2008 awarded one-year jail term to both Sushil and Gopal Ansal in the case while reducing the two-year sentence imposed on them by the trial court.
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