The Supreme Court on Thursday slashed the compensation relief awarded to the victims of the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire case, disappointing the families who have lost their loved ones in the tragedy.
After fighting for nearly 15 years, the Supreme Court verdict on Thursday came as a major setback for the families of the 59 Uphaar tragedy victims as the compensation to the families of deceased older than 20 years has been cut from Rs 18 lakh to Rs 10 lakh each, while for those below 20 years of age, compensation has been reduced from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 7.5 lakh.
The apex court said that that the responsibility lies with the Ansals and the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB).
Ansal Theatre and Clubotels Ltd, which owned the Uphaar theatre, will pay 85 per cent of the the compensation while the remaining 15 per cent will have to be paid by the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB).
The punitive damages imposed by the Delhi High Court on Ansals has also been reduced from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 25 lakh.
“They have reduced punitive damages from 2.5 crore to 25 lakh. 25 lakh is nothing for corporates. I fail to understand how this puny amount will discourage corporates in the future,” said Navin Sahni, family member of a victim.
The apex court also ruled that the MCD and Delhi Police, the licencing authority, cannot be held responsible for the tragedy and cleared of all liabilities.
“We have already lost everything. We have nothing else to lose. The MCD should have been made liable. People will continue to die in such tragedies and passing the buck will go on,” said Neelam Krishnamurthy, mother of two victims.
“I have already lost everything in life…I have nobody. I had two kids. We wanted this for public safety. May be the court should put themselves in our shoes and see,” said Shekhar Krishnamurthy.
However, MCD lawyer Sanjeev Sen said, “Total quantum of compensation awarded by the HC to the victims has been maintained. But the liability of MCD in this whole episode has been set aside and so has of the Delhi Police, which is the licensing authority.”
“The stand of the MCD was always that we were not liable, we complied with all the statutory obligations. We had made timely reports, pointed out illegal constructions,” said Sen.
With the Supreme Court order, it appears that the civil litigation is over in the case. Now the petitioners will push for criminal proceedings, asking for a higher quantum of punishment, fine and compensation.
Though the family members of the Uphaar fire victims reacted in disbelief to the Supreme Court verdict that halved their compensation, they say it was never about the money – it was about a precedent, which has still not been set.
“This was an opportunity that the Supreme Court has lost – to make sure that fire safety norms and licensing were regulated,” said Neelam Krishnamurthy.
They lost their loved ones on June 13, 1997, unfortunately, 14 years later, the dejected and frustrated family members have lost their faith in the Indian judicial system.