By Asmita Sarkar:
“Rich people can kill anyone’s children and pay blood money and get away with it. This compensation money will go to the government. Essentially, you are paying the government to shake hands with the corporate people and let them get away with anything,” said Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, father of Unnati and Ujjwal Krishnamoorthy. The 17 and 13 year olds died due to asphyxiation in the Uphaar Cinema fire in 1997, when they had gone to watch the film Border.
The alliance of the 59 families, who formed the Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), came leaden with death and despair. Finding each other through obituaries published in the newspapers, they have been fighting this case for 18 years. On the AVUT website, RememberUphaar, they stated in June 2015, in relation to the case being forwarded to the 3 bench committee that “AVUT had failed in its endeavour“, since there was no jail term on the horizon for the Ansal brothers. The Supreme Court committee’s verdict on 19th August 2015, cemented failure, not of the justice seekers’ but the judiciary. Neelam Krishnamoorthy added, “Eighteen years ago, I lost faith in God and today, I lost faith in the judiciary. I am disappointed and disgusted. Money power augurs so well with the institutions that the death of 59 persons becomes a mere statistic.”
While the Delhi High Court had found the brothers guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced them to two years’ prison in 2007, the real estate barons were out on bail within 4-5 months. Even though the senior advocate, Harish Salve, for CBI had said that, “My instruction is to press for custody” when asked by the court about the CBI’s wishes, the final verdict did not reflect that. The Ansals have been let go with a fine of mere Rs 60 crore, which is same as 15 villas in their new project. For the owners of a company, that earned Rs 1,234 crore as aggregate revenue in March, 2015, how hard is it to shell out less than 5% of one year’s earning to save their necks.
The Supreme Court, which has been adjourning for months, refused the CBI plea for making their argument for the case, when it suddenly decided to give the sentence yesterday. However, the CBI has been allowed to file a review petition for the case.
The whole purpose of pushing for maximum jail time of two years, under 304(A), was to ensure that an incident like this doesn’t recur in India. The moneyed have been getting away even when they were culpable. The lives of those lost can never be measured on a scale of currency, and yet the compensation that has been set is 10 lakh for those above 20 years and 7.5 lakh for those below. The rest would go to the state for a trauma center.
Did the government just barter life for infrastructure they are supposed to be building themselves? Are the coffers of the treasury in such a despairing state that blood money has become acceptable?
After the verdict, twitter has been abuzz with the voices of those who oppose it.
Law is not same for rich and poor: Victim on Uphaar case order http://t.co/UsRPqsu7Hi
— Anil Thakur (@AnilThakur_) August 20, 2015
#Uphaar shows yet again that it’s easy for the rich, powerful to get away with murder, manslaughter, massacre. Joke not justice…
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) August 20, 2015
— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) August 20, 2015
59 dead,18 years in court, no need for jail #Uphaar .SC verdict is final but today my thoughts are with a brave mother who battled alone !
— sonia singh (@soniandtv) August 19, 2015
— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) August 19, 2015
Why the judiciary is consorting with the rich and denying true justice, by quoting the age of the culprit and length of the case, seems not just confusing but insulting towards the almost two decade long battle the families have been fighting. The death of a loved one was only the beginning of their suffering. And there’s no way to say that it has ended even today. For who would ever be able to replace a human with money?