Ansals culpability in Uphaar fire to be decided Wednesday


New Delhi : The criminal culpability of real estate tycoons Gopal and Sushil Ansal in the deaths of 59 people killed in south Delhi’s Uphaar cinema 10 years ago will be decided Wednesday.

Support TwoCircles

Additional Sessions Judge Mamta Sehgal had reserved her verdict Aug 21 after counsel for various parties, including the prosecuting agency Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Ansal brothers, concluded their arguments.

CBI lawyer and former solicitor general Harish Salve and former additional solicitor general K.T.S. Tulsi, who was representing the Association of the Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy, had sought to impress upon the court that the Ansal brothers could not escape the charges of murderous lapses in the incident.

On that fateful Friday of June 13, 1997, the exterior of the theatre turned into an inferno while its interiors became a closed gas chamber with a jammed exit route, leaving people gasping for breath and dying of asphyxiation.

It all started when an illegally installed transformer of the erstwhile Delhi Vidyut Board in the basement car parking of the theatre caught fire, spread to the nearby cars and, fuelled by the petrol inside, engulfed the entire cinema hall.

The lawyers specifically dwelt upon the alleged avarice of the real estate barons, who for a few hundred extra bucks had installed some additional seats in the theatre and had permanently closed one of its exit doors, blocking the easy escape route out of the theatre.

Lawyers for the Ansal brothers sought to deflect the blame saying that the lapses by the company, which owned the theatre, could not be transferred to them.

But these arguments had in September 2001 been rejected by the Delhi High Court in its ruling on a petition by Ansal brothers against the trial court decision to frame charges against them and put them on trial under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder).

Justice R.C. Chopra of the Delhi High Court had ruled: “Sushil Ansal was the person-in-charge and was looking after the cinema on behalf of the owner and had permitted the cinema building to be used in contravention of the provision of laws. Therefore this court find no infirmity with the trial court order for framing charges against him.”

Along with the Ansal brothers, the court had also put 14 others, including eight government officials, on trial.

The government officials included Public Works Department official S.N. Dandona, Muncipal Corporation of Delhi employees Shyam Sunder Sharma and N.D. Tiwari, Delhi Fire Service officials H.S. Panwar and Surinder Dutt and three erstwhile Delhi Vidyut Board officials Brij Mohan Satija, A.K. Gera and Bir Singh.

The six other accused included employees of the Ansal brothers — cinema hall director R.M. Puri, its managers K.L. Malhotra, R.K. Sharma, N.S. Chopra and Ajit Chaudhary and balcony attendant Manmohan Unniyal.

Two of the government officials, Dandona and Dutt, and two Ansal employees, Puri and Malhotra, died during the trial of the case.