Friday, April 25, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

21 crore relief for Uphaar victims
Ansals, govt agencies to share damages
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 24
In a landmark judgement, the Delhi High Court today awarded the highest compensation of about Rs 21 crore through civil remedy to 59 victims of the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy by holding theatre owners, Ansals and three government agencies responsible for negligence in providing public safety norms.

In a judgement, which could become a benchmark for awarding compensation for gross negligency towards public safety through civil writ instead of suit for damage, a Bench comprising Mr Justice S.K. Mahajan and Mr Justice Mukul Mudgal said: “The six-year trauma suffered by the Uphaar victims cannot be compensated in terms of money. An example must be set to all wrongdoers that they are not negligent towards their duty.”

Awarding the kin of each of the 34 adult deceased persons, compensation of Rs 18 lakh and each of the 25 minors Rs 15 lakh, the court said owners of Uphaar cinema, the Delhi police’s Licencing Department, the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) of jointly “responsible” for the act of negligence towards public safety.

It also awarded compensation of Rs 1 lakh to each of the 104 persons who had sustained injuries in the incident that took place during the screening of blockbuster “Border” on June 13, 1997.

Also imposing “punitive damages” of Rs 2.50 crore on the cinema owners for making changes in the theatre’s original sanctioned seats arrangement plan, the court said the victims would also be entitled to 9 per cent interest on the damages for six years from the date of filing of the petition in 1997.

The court said of the Rs 10.91 crore damages awarded to the victims, including the injured persons, 55 per cent would be paid by Ansals and 15 per cent each by the Delhi police, DVB and the MCD.

The total damages would be Rs 21.39 crore, including 9 per cent compound interest and Rs 2.50 crore punitive damages on Ansals, counsel for Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) said.

The court said the damages should be paid within two months and if the respondents failed to do so, the money would be recovered through “decree”.

It further said the Rs 2.50 crore punitive damages imposed on Ansals would be paid for the setting up of a central accident trauma service in the Capital for which the Union Government had made a provision for spending Rs 50 crore in the 9th Five-Year Plan.

The court, however, expressed concern over the slow pace of work in establishing the service.

The AVUT had sought an award of Rs 100 crore for establishing a trauma centre from the government, besides Rs 20 lakh damages to each of the dead and Rs 10 lakh each to the injured.

The court, exonerated the Delhi Fire Service of any act of negligence and instead commended it for rescuing the people and taking them to hospitals and bringing the fire under control.

Awarding the compensation, the Bench stated that it was not holding “any person or authority directly responsible for the it has to be determined in the trial after evidence is recorded (in the criminal case pending in the trial court).”

“We still feel that there was clearly lack of care on the part of the authorities in providing and maintaining all standards of public the approach of everyone concerned was casual and safety standards were thrown to the winds,” the Bench observed.

It said if any suit relating to the case was pending in any court, the same shall not be dismissed on the ground that the damages had been awarded through the civil remedy. But if the damages were awarded in the suit, the compensation given today would be adjusted against that amount.

Observing that the rule relating to public safety “are most important”, the court directed the Delhi Administration and other authorities concerned to implement the recommendations of the Naresh Kumar Committee with regard to safety of people at public places in a time-bound manner.

Commenting on the verdict, the AVUT counsel said: “It is for the first time that such high punitive damages have been awarded.

This would act as a “deterrent” to the law enforcing agencies and big business houses against negligency towards public safety norms, he said.

The AVUT activist, Ms Neelam Krishnamurthy, who had lost her two children and Mr Jagdeep Singh Maan, whose entire family fell victim to the tragedy, said: “We are satisfied with the verdict of the court. It is a result of our united fight that for the first time wrongdoers and the authorities have been made accountable for their misdeeds.”

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