Theatre fire victims seek early decision on compensation

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Tuesday decided to begin hearing from October a bunch of lawsuits challenging the distribution of compensation among the victims of the 1997 Uphaar theatre fire tragedy.

On a plea by the theatre fire victims seeking expeditious decision, a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan decided to begin hearing from October all the lawsuits challenging the Delhi High Court’s April 2003 ruling for award of the compensation.

The Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) in its application to the Supreme Court pointed out that the bunch of appeals against the high court ruling were pending for six years, delaying the payment of compensation including that part of it which was not disputed.

The AVUT lawsuit explained to the court that the high court had ruled for award of a total of Rs.185 million in compensation to victims - 59 killed and 10 injured, with the theatre owners Ansal brothers, sharing 55 percent of the sum and three government departments - Delhi Police, Delhi Fire Service and erstwhile Delhi Vidyut Board sharing 15 percent each of the total amount.

In its lawsuit, AVUT president Neelam Krishnamoorthy said the high court had awarded the compensation at the rate of Rs.1.8 million for each among the dead aged above 20 years, Rs.1.5 millions for each among the dead below 20 years and Rs.100,000 for each of the injured persons.

The AVUT petition added that while all the three government departments deposited their share of compensation with the high court, Delhi police and the fire service had approached the apex court, challenging the high court ruling.

The apex court through its temporary order of Sep 8, 2003 stalled the disbursement of compensations deposited by the two government bodies.

Following the two departments’ appeals, the apex court summoned all the high court documents to it, said the AVUT petition, adding that this resulted in stalling of the disbursement of even the DVB share of the compensation, which was not in dispute.

Later, the Ansal brothers moved the apex court challenging the high court’s ruling.

The apex court in October 2004 ordered the Ansal brothers to deposit 50 percent of their share of the compensation with a provision for disbursement of half of their deposited money among victims.

But even that money could not be distributed to all the victims, said the AVUT lawsuit adding that only those victims, whose documents had already been verified while processing their compensation claim from the DVB amount, could secure their share of the compensation from the amount deposited by the Ansals, as the records of the case were with the apex court.

‘Almost 12 years have elapsed since the unfortunate incident and almost six years have elapsed since the apex court had admitted the appeals against compensation to victims. Though such a long time has passed, yet a majority of the unfortunate victims of the tragedy have not been paid the compensation awarded by the high court,’ said the appeal.


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