Twenty years after the fire in south Delhi's Uphaar Cinema engulfed 59 lives, the families of the victims feel that justice has been denied to them in the case. On June 13, 1997, halfway through the screening of Hindi film "Border", a fire broke out in Uphaar Cinema, situated in Green Park area, in which 59 people died of asphyxia, while over 100 others were injured in the ensuing stampede. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had directed Gopal Ansal, the owner of the theatre, to serve a year's jail term while his elder brother, Sushil Ansal, got relief from incarceration with prison term already undergone by him. Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who had lost her two teenage children in the incident 20 years ago, described the judgement as a "travesty of justice". Krishnamoorthy, also convener of Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), said it will set a "bad precedent" and "embolden" other big firms to flout safety norms for profit. "The verdict is certain to go down in the history as a travesty of justice. Such a judgement will only embolden the owners of public spaces to violate safety rules and compromise on safety, with no thought of endangering human lives," she said in a statement. Meanwhile, the Home Ministry is examining a mercy petition of realty baron Gopal Ansal, who was convicted in the case, and has sought opinion of the ministries concerned before conveying its decision to the President. "We are shocked that the ministry has bothered to entertain such a petition.
We trust that our hopes will not be dashed further," she added. With the case dragging for 10 years, AVUT had in 2007 approached the Delhi High Court seeking conclusion of trial within a time frame, which had, after a few months, convicted all 12 accused, including Sushil and Gopal Ansal, in the case and sentenced them to two years' imprisonment. By 2013, the matter was in Supreme Court which had issued notice on AVUT's petition for enhancement of sentence of Ansal brothers and alteration of charge besides issuing notice on the Ansals' plea against conviction. A year later, the apex court upheld the conviction of Gopal and Sushil Ansal, even as two judges differed on the sentence. Justice T S Thakur awarded one-year jail term, while Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra sentenced them to the period undergone following which the matter was referred to a three- judge bench. It was only by August 2015 that hearing began on quantum of sentence and the Supreme Court allowed the Ansals to walk free, asking them to pay a fine of Rs 30 crore each. In November that year, the CBI and the AVUT sought review of verdict saying, the SC did not give time to put views forth which resulted in "miscarriage of justice". Subsequently, the SC refused to entertain a plea filed against the high court order quashing criminal case against the Ansals for allegedly threatening the AVUT President. In January last year, the apex court agreed to give an open court hearing on the review petitions of the CBI and the AVUT. On February 9 this year, the Supreme Court directed 69- year-old Gopal Ansal to serve a year's jail term while his elder brother Sushil Ansal got relief from incarceration with prison term already undergone by him in the two-decade-old case in which 59 people had died.
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