No lesson learnt from Uphaar: Survivors on Delhi hotel blaze

Photo : IANS

New Delhi :  After 22 years of one of the deadliest fires in the capital, the authorities have still not learnt their lesson and have shown to be committing same mistakes which had then led to choking death of 59 people at the Uphaar cinema hall in the posh south Delhi area, say survivors of that tragedy.

It was on Friday 13, 1997, when a short-circuit led to a massive fire inside the upmarket south Delhi cinema hall, which was showing blockbuster “Border” to a house packed to its capacity.

People, who for a second thought smoke to be part of some special effect, soon realised it wasn’t so and ran for their lives.

Exit gates locked from outside, a mad scramble, and noxious smoke led to asphyxiation of 59 people and injured over 100 in a disaster which shook not just the city but the entire country.

“We have not learnt anything from our past mistakes. And this is after 22 years of Uphaar. This is same, now the blame game begins — MCD blames the DFS (Delhi Fire Service), DFS blames the DJB… Even in this case, the exits were not functional. Didn’t the DFS see that the exists were not there and there was wooden panelling all across hotel which aggravated the fire?,” Neelam Krishnamoorthy, one of the litigants who lost a son and a daughter in the Uphaar tragedy told IANS.

“What we need is a nodal agency which has people from all other agencies and acts as a sole body answerable for any such mishaps. The problem is that there is no deterrence among people. Look what happened in Uphaar case, even when the conviction came, the culprits got away by building a trauma centre in way of compensation,” she added.

Gopal and Sushil Ansal, owners of the cinema hall, were found guilty by the Supreme Court and were asked to pay Rs 30 crore each. Both brothers were found guilty of “death by negligence” and awarded one year’s sentence each, however Sushil Ansal’s sentence was partially suspended considering his old age (79).

Navin Sahni, who lost his only daughter Tariqa in the tragedy, concurred with Krishnamoorthy and slammed the “chalta hai” attitude, which he said is ingrained in the Indian system.

“This is same thing all over again. There is not an act in our system which has some stringent punishment for any man-made tragedy. There should be a much heavier pay-off for such incidents. Otherwise the businessmen, the industrialists will keep getting away from law’s reach like the Ansals did,” Sahni said.

Both survivors say that the Karol Bagh hotel fire – in which 17 people were killed — were reminiscent of the Uphaar and the authorities have not changed in terms of enforcement of laws.

The Tuesday’s blaze, erupting at the Arpit Palace hotel, was one of the deadliest since Uphaar in terms of body-count.

Published on: Feb 12, 2019 at 21:12 IST


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