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Netflix Series ‘Trial By Fire’ Inspired By The Uphaar Cinema Tragedy.

Uphaar Cinema Tragedy / Trial By Fire

Trial by Fire, a show based on the Uphaar Cinema tragedy of 1997, was released on Netflix. One of the biggest fire tragedies in India happened on 13 June 1997, where 59 people lost their lives and 103 were injured when a massive fire broke out at Uphaar Cinema in Delhi’s Green Park.

Trial By Fire - Web Series Based On Uphaar Fire Tragedy To Released on Netflix

Image Courtesy: NDTV

As Netflix releases a mini-series “Trial by Fire” based on a book about the incident and the long-drawn legal battle that followed, we look back at the case.

What happened?

On the morning of June 13, 1997, during a screening of J P Dutta’s Border, a massive fire broke out at Uphaar Cinema in Delhi’s Green Park. A total of 59 people died of asphyxiation after being trapped in the hall, while 103 were seriously injured in an occurred stampede to escape.

Initially, when the fire broke out, it was fixed by an electrician who quickly repaired it only to open the theatre. But the repair wasn’t done properly, the transformer caught fire again after one of its cables came loose and caused intense sparking.

The transformer reportedly didn’t have an oil soak pit, which is mandatory as per regulations, and this caused the burning oil to spread to other areas. Even cars at distance were engulfed in the much larger flames.

The smoke entered the cinema hall and the theatre had lost power. Viewers on the lower floor were able to escape, while people seating on the balcony were left trapped.

The legal battle!

The Delhi Police arrested cinema owners – Sushil and Gopal Ansal in Mumbai in July 1997. But the case was later transferred to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)

Uphaar tragedy lead fighter Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost both her children in the fire, told ThePrint, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the last 24 years, it is this – don’t go to the courts with any expectations. They will let you down.”

ThePrint quoted Neelam as saying in her book “Trial by Fire” that the move came as a surprise. She wrote, “While the Delhi Police had been consistently opposing the granting of bail for two weeks, the CBI, in the very first hearing, agreed to grant the Ansals bail, even before it had taken charge of the case diaries from the Delhi Police.”

the initial chargesheet by CBI had the names of 16 accused, however, the trial went on for over a decade. Even today, the fight for justice goes on with cases of evidence tampering against the Ansals.

Ten years after the tragedy, the trial court finally convicted the Ansals of criminal negligence and slapped a two-year prison, which is the maximum in such a case, as per Indian Express.

The Delhi Court upholding the conviction, however, reduced the sentence to one year. The case went on for over a decade in the Supreme Court.

The Delhi Court in 2017, made a landmark judgment asking the Ansal Theatre and Clubotels Limited (ATCL) group, the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVP), the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), and the Delhi Police to pay Rs 18 lakh each as compensation to adult victims, Rs 15 lakh each to families of the children who died, and Rs 1 lakh each to the 103 injured, according to ThePrint.

The Ansals were also asked to pay Rs 2.5 crore to set up a trauma centre, which today is known as the AIIMS Jai Prakash Narayan Apex Trauma Centre in Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave, and is one of the few paramedical institutions in India.

After the Ansals filed an appeal saying they did not have enough funds to pay the compensation, the Supreme Court in 2011 reduced the amount to be paid to Rs 15 lakh for adults and Rs 7.5 lakh for children.

What was the conclusion?

As per the report, Sushil Ansal has spent only five months in prison while Gopal was ordered to serve a year in jail.

On July 19th 2022, Sushil and Gopal Ansal walked out of jail. While noting that nothing could compensate the victims’ families for their loss, the court had, however, stated that the order was based on consideration for the accused age’s.

“We didn’t spend as much time with our children on this Earth as we have seeking justice for their murders. We are serving a living death sentence; it has been 26 years, and it is still on,” Shekhar and Neelam Krishnamoorthy told The Indian Express ahead of the release of the Netflix show.

While the brother appealed to the Delhi High Court to put a Stay on the release of the Netflix show, the Delhi High Court rejected the plea.



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