The Supreme Court on Thursday sentenced prominent builder Gopal Ansal to one year jail term for the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy case that had left 59 dead in Delhi. While Gopal would serve six months of his remaining term, his brother Sushil Ansal, will not go behind bars due to his ‘advanced age.’
The Uphaar Cinema fire is considered as one of the worst fire tragedies in recent Indian history. The horrific incident occurred on 13 June 1997 at Uphaar Cinema located in Green Park area of Delhi. The fire broke out during the screening of the afternoon show of Bollywood movie Border. 59 people succumbed to the flaring fire inside the hall mostly due to suffocation, and 103 were seriously injured in the resulting stampede.
The victims of the tragedy and the families of the deceased later formed The Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy' (AVUT), which filed the landmark Civil compensation case. It won â‚¹25 crore (equivalent to â‚¹44 crore or US$6.5 million in 2016) compensation for the relatives and families of the victims in the case, now considered a breakthrough in civil compensation law in India.
Here is a timeline of important events related to the two decade old incident
July 22, 1997: Theatre owner Sushil Ansal and his son Pranav were arrested in Mumbai by the crime branch of Delhi police.
July 24, 1997: The probe was transferred from Delhi police to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
November 15, 1997: CBI files chargesheet against 16 accused including theatre owners Sushil and Gopal Ansal.
March 10, 1999: A sessions court presided by L D Malik initiates trial.
February 27, 2001: Court frames charges against accused under various sections, including sections 304 (culpable homicide), 304 A (causing death by negligent act) and 337 (hurt) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
May 23, 2001: Recording of prosecution witnesses’ testimony begins.
13 October 2011: The Supreme Court on 13 October 2011, nearly halved the sum of compensation awarded to them by the Delhi high court and slashed punitive damages to be paid by cinema owners Ansal brothers from â‚¹2.5 crore (equivalent to â‚¹3.6 crore or US$540,000 in 2016) to â‚¹25 lakh (equivalent to â‚¹36 lakh or US$54,000 in 2016).
25 August 2015: In its final order, Supreme Court on 25 August 2015 modified its earlier order and ordered real estate barons Ansal brothers will undergo a two-year rigorous jail term in the Uphaar fire case if they fail to pay Rs.30 crore each within three months.
April 4, 2002: Delhi High Court asks trial court to try to wrap up the case by December 15.
Jan 27, 2003: Ansals’ plea seeking re-possession of the theatre rejected on the ground that place of incident is to be preserved to appreciate evidence.
April 24, 2003: Delhi High Court awards Rs 180 million compensation to be paid to the relatives of victims.Sep 4, 2004: Court starts recording statements of accused.
Nov 5, 2005: Recording of testimonies of defence witnesses begins.
Aug 2, 2006: Court concludes recording of testimony of defence witnesses.
Aug 9, 2006: Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) Mamta Sehgal inspects the theatre.
Feb 14, 2007: Accused start advancing final arguments.
Aug 21, 2007: Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) approaches Delhi High Court seeking conclusion of trial within a fixed time frame.
Aug 20, 2007: Senior advocate Harish Salve appears for CBI and advances final arguments.
Aug 21, 2007: Judgement reserved. Court fixes September 5 for pronouncement of verdict.
Sep 5, 2007: Court defers pronouncement of verdict and says it would fix the date of judgement on October 22.
Oct 22, 2007: Court fixes November 20 as date of verdict.
Nov 17, 2008: Delhi High Court reserves trial court order.
Dec 19, 2008: Delhi High Court upholds trial court order convicting Ansal brothers but reduces their sentence from two years to one year.
2009: Supreme Court issues notice on petition filed by AVUT, a platform of victims’ families, for enhancement of sentence and alteration of charges. CBI too files appeal seeking enhancement
April 17, 2013: Supreme Court reserves order on appeals of Ansals, CBI and AVUT
March 5, 2014: Judges differ on sentence. One judge awards one year, another sentences Ansals to term already undergone. Matter referred to three-judge benchAugust 11, 2015: Hearing begins on quantum of sentence
August 19, 2015 : Supreme Court allows Ansals to walk free after paying a fine of Rs 30 crore each