Lessons from Uphaar Cinema incident

by Madhvi Bansal
Uphaar Cinema incident

On June 13 1997, Delhi witnessed one of the worst fire tragedies that ever occurred in its history.  A fire broke out in Uphaar cinema situated in Green Park, South Delhi due to faulty wire connections.  The fire claimed the lives of over 50 people and left many injured.

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A magisterial probe held after the incident proved the owners of Uphaar Cinema. Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal , guilty. They also held Delhi Vidyut Board and City Fire Service responsible. However due to judicial negligence and owners’ greed for money and access to power, the victims’ family had to wait for 20 long years to finally attain justice. In 2017, the judiciary sentenced Gopal Ansal to one  year’s imprisonment whereas Sushil Ansal was let go because of old age.

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Fire Code Violations

One very important observation from the incident is that there were a number of fire code violations . The hall had unauthorized extensions and additions to the seats which resulted in blockage of the passages. There were no emergency lights, foot lights or exit lights installed that could have helped in evacuation. Further no announcements were made when the fire broke out to inform the trapped audience. Also, there were no proper exits and gates were locked which left the audience stranded. A lot of casualties could have been avoided if proper guidelines were followed.

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Slow Judicial Service

The incident also shows a mirror to the Indian Judiciary as to how slow the Indian Judicial System is. A month after the incident, the initial probe had proved the owners guilty but it took 20 years for the judiciary to give a final verdict. During these 20 years, the case was transferred from Delhi Police to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to session courts, High court etc. There were petitions filed by the families of the victims which were looked at by the Supreme Court which gave the final ruling of imprisonment and also charged both the owners to pay 30 crores each as fine.

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Though the court did arrive at a final verdict, the delay in the justice clearly shows a big flaw in the system.