New Delhi: In a signal that developers will be held accountable for building safety and liable for negligence that claims lives, an additional sessions judge of Delhi, Mamta Sehgal found Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, owners of the Uphaar cinema hall, guilty in the fire that led to the death of 59 people in 1997.
Verdicts of the court of additional sessions judge can be challenged on appeal in the Delhi high court.
Sushil Ansal is chairman of Ansal Properties and Infrastructure Ltd while Gopal Ansal is the chairman of Ansal Buildwell Ltd.
Fire engines stand outside the Uphaar cinema in the Green Park suburb of New Delhi Friday, 13 June 1997, following a fire during a matinee show at the cinema. (AP Photo/str)
The Ansal brothers have been held guilty under section 304A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, which envisages the offence of causing death by a rash or negligent act, though not with a wilful intent.
The section prescribes a punishment of imprisonment of a maximum of two years or a fine or both. There is no fixed limit for the fine.
Ansal Properties’ shares fell 5.85% to close at Rs252.50 on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). The stock price of Ansal Buildwell declined by 1.76% to close at Rs92.65 on BSE.
The benchmark Sensex fell 1.8%.
“Sushil Ansal has been found guilty under section 304A which is a minor offence,” an Ansal API spokesperson said. “We will wait for the sentence to come tomorrow and all the necessary steps will be taken in accordance with the law once we get a copy of the judgement.”
The other seven accused—a gatekeeper of the theatre, three managers and three Delhi Vidyut Board officials—were als found guilty, under section 304 of the IPC for the offence of culpable homicide amounting to murder for which the punishment amounts to a life sentence or a term that may extend to 10 years along with a fine.
Gopal Ansal, accused in Uphaar tragedy case appearing in Patiala Court, in the Capital. Photo :Ajay Aggarwal 22 February 2001
The quantum of the sentences of the 10 accused will be pronounced by the additional sessions judge today.
The verdict came some 10 years after the fire in Uphaar, in the southern part of Delhi’s Green Park area, killed 59 and injured scores during the screening of a movie. Those trying to flee the fire couldn’t escape in time.
The fire department said the 13 June 1997 blaze began in an electricity generator at the 1,000-seat hall. Most of those who died were trapped on a balcony when the false ceiling caught fire and billowed noxious smoke into the upper level, the report said.
The counsel for Sushil Ansal plans to appeal in the high court. The offence under which Sushil Ansal has been booked is a bailable offence and “we plan to file a bail application once the sentence is pronounced”, the API spokesperson said.
Neelam Krishna Murthy (IInd from Left), Jagdeep Mann (Right) and other family member’s of Uphaar tragedy case talking with media person’s after the court formally framed charges against them in Uphaar case at Patiala Court, in the Capital on Monday 19 November 2007. Photo: Ajay Aggarwal 9 April 2001.
API also claims that Sushil Ansal was not incharge of the management and control of the Uphaar cinema hall at the time the fire happened and therefore cannot be held responsible for negligence.
“In 1988, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal resigned from the directorship of Green Park Theatre Associated Pvt. Ltd, the owner of Uphaar cinema hall,” an API spokesperson claimed.
Relatives of victims of the fire at Uphaar cinema, offer prayers during a function to mark its tenth anniversary in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, 13 June 2007. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)
“Sushil Ansal was not in charge of day-to-day affairs of Uphaar cinema hall and the company was managed by a professional board of directors.”
These claims could not be independently verified by Mint.
PTI contributed to this story.