Citizens' Issues
Uphaar Cinema fire victims get reduced compensation, making a mockery of innocent deaths

A total of 28 families whose close members died in the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy in 1997 continue to wait for justice for their irreparable loss. They have been campaigning for action and compensation against the theatre-owners, who violated laws for getting more money from the extra seats that blocked the way of safety

On Thursday, 13th October, the Supreme Court reduced the compensation for the victims of the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy by nearly 50%, which is Rs18 lakh to Rs10 lakh for those who were above 20 years when they died and from Rs15 lakh to Rs7.5 lakh for those below 20 years. The owners, the Ansal brothers, were let off by being asked to pay just Rs25 lakh instead of the Rs2.5 crore for punitive damages which the Delhi High Court had imposed upon them. And that too, some of this money will be paid by the Delhi Vidyut Board.

Neelam Krishnamurthy, who lost both her teenage daughters in this tragedy and is the President of the Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) which was formed on 30 June 1997 after 59 people were killed on 13 June 1997 during the screening of the Hindi film Border, was distressed at the Supreme Court judgment. She said to the press that it is not about the money as much as it is about demanding accountability and stringent safety norms in safety in public places which are often flouted by the owners.

In a press release dated 13 June 2011, when the two main accused, Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal were given a sentence of just one year by the Delhi High Court, Ms Krishnamurthy had stated, “a rankling sense of injustice tortures the 28 families who lost 59 relatives in a fire at Uphaar Cinema… the struggle to ensure safety in public places and create accountability for innocent lives lost remains a distant dream.”

She also stated, “In July 2009, AVUT petitioned the President, Congress party’s Sonia Gandhi and the Law Minister, proposing legislation to prevent manmade tragedies in public places. “For over two years, the matter has been pending with the Law Commission, but the absence of strong legal deterrents that instill fear in the minds of those who willfully or casually inflict harm continues.”

A look at the serious violations of the Ansal brothers and the negligence in enforcing the required safety norms for the cinema theatre by the authorities will give an insight into the grave crime done by them resulting in so many innocent deaths.

In the judgment of the High Court in December 2008, when it convicted 6 out of the 12 convicted earlier by the trial court, paragraph 9.74 of the High Court judgment lists the following violations:

 “The most crucial decision of the company which had direct links with deaths of 59 patrons and grievous injury to 100 others is beyond any question or doubt attributable to Sushil Ansal & Gopal Ansal. Thus:

1. The decision to install a DVB transformer, contrary to sanction plan and without the permission or approval of the Licensing Authority and MCD;

2. Absence of fire safety measures within the transformer room, again contrary to regulations;

3.  The Structural Deviations in the cinema hall;

4. Use of several portions of the cinema hall for commercial purposes;

5. Negligent management of parking;

6. The decision taken to completely shut the right side gangway in the balcony, that reduced the number of gangways, correspondingly increased the seats and also crucially blocked the right exit;

7. Failure to ensure proper supervision within the cinema at the time of the show contrary to the mandate of DCR 1953 & 1981;

8. Failure to ensure functioning fire safety equipment that would have warned patrons to leave the cinema hall immediately upon the outbreak of fire or an emergency and also facilitate their escape through proper lighting, were directly attributable to the owners and occupiers of this cinema hall.”

This is what AVUT asked for in its writ petition to the High Court and subsequently to the Supreme Court:

“The Association of the victims of the Uphaar tragedy  (AVUT) filed a civil writ petition on 28th July 1997 in the Hon‘ble Supreme Court against 40 respondents which includes Sushil Ansal, Gopal Ansal, company’s shareholders, staff of Uphaar Cinema & various  government agencies , but the same was referred to the Delhi High Court. The main prayer in writ of the association is as under:

1.    Direct the Union of India to ensure that no cinema hall in the country is allowed to run without licence granted after strictly observing all the mandatory conditions prescribed under the law.

2.    To award punitive damages against the Respondents to pay sum of Rs100 crore jointly or severally to AVUT for the purposes of setting up and augmenting the centralised accident and trauma services and other allied services in the city of Delhi under the supervision of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court.

3.    To award damages against the Respondents jointly or severally to all the victims who lost their lives, a sum of Rs11.80 crore with the directions to equally distribute the same to the first degree heirs of all the victims.

4.    Award damages against all the respondents jointly or severally to the tune of Rs10.30 crore to the injured to be distributed evenly or as may be considered just and proper by the Hon’ble Court.

This is what the Delhi High Court had ordered:

“The total compensation amount awarded was Rs18.50 crore of which Rs2.50 crore to be paid by Ansal Theatre & Clubotels (P) Ltd to the Union of India towards setting up of a trauma centre in Delhi. Of the balance amount the apportionment is as follows:

  •  55% to be paid by Ansal Theatre & Clubotels (P) Ltd which owns Uphaar Cinema.
  • 15% each to be paid by Delhi Vidyut Board, deputy commissioner of police (Licensing) & Municipal Corporation of Delhi.
  •  Rs 15,00,000 + 9% interest from the date of filing of the writ to the deceased below the age group of 20 years.
  •  Rs 18,00,000 + 9% interest from the date of filing of the writ to the deceased above the age group of 20 years.
  •  Rs1,00,000 for Injured
  • Rs 250,00,000  to be paid by Ansals as Punitive damages to the Union of India  for the purposes of Trauma Centre.”

Ms Krishnamurthy said, “The collusion of callous and greedy officials, big business houses and an apathetic system flourishes. Civil society movements that insist on appropriate judicial mechanisms that compel offenders to think twice before indulging in acts of omission & commission, that can endanger human life, are the need of the hour. Till such time, there can be no closure or healing for the families of the victims of the Uphaar fire.”

Is it so difficult for the government to make strict laws that would also bring in compensation and imprisonment—which would serve as a deterrent to the defaulters who take the innocent public for a ride?

AVUT, in its appeal to the President, Ms Gandhi and the Law Commission, has proposed stringent legislation for such manmade tragedies. It rightly points out: “Under our prevalent system, such offenders are booked under Section (304) (A) of the Indian Penal Code, which translates into causing death due to a rash and negligent act. It is by itself a mockery of our legal system that someone who causes the deaths of hundreds and thousands just to satiate his greed, is charged with only rashness and negligence. The irony of the situation is that even the said provision is classified as ‘bailable’, meaning thereby that unless an accused is convicted, there is no fear of his being incarcerated, irrespective of the number of deaths he may have caused. Being a popular notion that criminal trials in our country never get over, still, if someone’s misfortune gets him convicted for the said offence, he need not worry as he is bound to get relief from the appellate courts, since the maximum imprisonment provided is a mere two years. In this grim scenario, incidents of such catastrophic magnitude are bound to recur since there is no legal deterrence that can instill fear in the minds of possible wrongdoers.

“The need of the hour is to have an appropriate legislation to tackle such manmade calamities and put in place an appropriate investigative and judicial mechanism that compels future offenders to think twice before indulging in acts of omission or commission that can endanger human life. The legislation must prescribe the mandatory stipulations that need to be met with by owners, occupiers and/or builders of places inhabited and/or visited by the public at large. Strict adherence to public safety norms and rules/regulations thereto, must be ensured through this legislation. Not only should adequate punishment be prescribed for the offenders but care must also be taken that the punishment is of such a nature and degree that it has the necessary preventive effect.”


Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984): Over 10,000 dead.

Dabwali Fire Tragedy (1995): 452 school-going children dead.

Fire tragedy at mental asylum, Erwadi (2001): 25 dead.

Kumbakonam school fire tragedy (2004): 90 primary schoolchildren dead.

Victoria Park Fire tragedy, Meerut (2006): 50 dead.

Carlton Hotel tragedy, Bengaluru (2010): 9 dead, 50 injured

(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected]).



Nitin Kirtane

5 years ago

This is an unfortunate judgement, immocent lives were lost but no one is accoutable , one can get away with anything in our system .Very good article by Mrs Deshmukh .

Dr Vaibhav G Dhoka

5 years ago

Our judicial system is nearly failed system known for undue delay and doing INJUSTICE instead of JUSTICE as is seen. There is failure in both criminal and civil law suits.In most cases judgments and orders are depend on mindset of presiding court.And our system is more famous for delay rather than giving true justice.One can feel only sorry in such cases.Because delay in JUSTICE system is second capitol punishment to the justice seekers.


5 years ago

i am sure the same set of judges will lat go kasab on compassinate grounds..afterall he is only 21 years old ..take or give 2-3 years.

kasab is too immature to know what he was doing would be the claim of judge sitting in his well protected cabin with all the perks.why not let him marry one of those judge daughters and have all the fun.

Krishnaraj Rao

5 years ago

Good article, Vinita. This is precisely the sort of thing that makes people feel that judges are bought up. They are often seen using their discretionary powers to benefit wrongdoers by lowering compensations and penalties, often showing more compassion to wrongdoers and criminals than their victims.

Nagesh Kini FCA

5 years ago

This judgement makes for the mockery of law affirming that law is not only an ass but a perfect one at that.
Letting off lightly the Ansals, the Municipal Corporation and other authorities is a gross blunder and travesty of justice,equity and fair play.
This must go to a larger bench by way of a revision petition.
Justice shouldn't be blind.

ICICI Pru iCare delivers ‘instant’ online term insurance, but watch out for some caveats

ICICI Prudential’s iCare is an innovative product offering ‘instant’ insurance—but it may not deliver in all cases. Medical tests are not needed for instant online purchase. But there is no guarantee that you’ll pass the ‘threshold risk’ online test to buy the product at a click 

ICICI Prudential Life Insurance’s iCare tries to address the major hiccup with the online term insurance buying process. The medical tests which online term insurance products require for all (or higher age groups) has been done away with this innovative product. There were issues like premium hike after medical tests which used to catch customers by surprise. This one-of-a-kind product will have no medical tests and no surprises of premium hike. But what is the catch?

If you don’t fit into the profile of the customer the insurer is looking for, you may not be able to buy the product online; which implies that it will not be available to that customer who does not ‘fit in’, for the quoted premium. After all, which insurance company will afford to take the risk of offering a low premium for a high-risk customer?

For this product, the buying process can be completed in many cases including customers who are smokers and drinkers. “The premium that you see on your quotation is the final annual premium that you will pay!” is what ICICI Prudential promises. But if you are suffering from some ailment like a heart problem or any other major illness, then the online buying cannot be completed.

There is a ‘threshold risk’ up to which the online buying process can be completed. The process is designed in such a way that it will ask many questions on different medical conditions, or smoking & drinking habits. If the online software decides the risk is beyond a threshold for a particular customer profile, online buying cannot be completed. If you are rejected, this message will greet you—“On the basis of details entered by you, we are unable to offer you the chosen product online.” One can argue that it is a good move by the insurer as underwriting without a medical test can be offered only to a certain extent.

According to the company, “The customer who is stopped from completing online buying will be offered offline products like ICICI Pure Protect.”

The online process may offer lower sum assured (SA) for higher age. For example, it offers Rs1 crore SA for a 40-year-old male, but only Rs60 lakh SA for a 60-year-old having the same income level. iCare Option II offers accidental death benefit with coverage equal to SA, subject to a maximum of Rs50 lakh. The existing online term plan iProtect is no longer on ICICI Pru’s website.

The plan has the following advantages:

  •  The value offered by the product is convenience of instant policy without medical tests and no hike in the quoted premium. It will certainly appeal to a number of customers.
  • Other insurance product reviews allow no medical check-up till 50 years, but this product is offered without a medical check-up for higher ages too, subject to the declaration of medical conditions by the customer, which have to be below the threshold risk allowed by the online process.  
  • It will be an advantage for people with some health problems who are allowed by the online process to complete the buying, as they will get a good deal on the premium.

But there are some disadvantages:

  •  The premium will be higher than the insurer’s own iProtect term insurance (which as mentioned above does not appear on ICICI Prudential’s website) due to convenience of no medical check-up and instant term life insurance offered by iCare.
  •  Moneylife tried buying the product online giving information as a potential buyer. Details were submitted as the prospect being a moderate smoker (8-15 packets a week) and moderate drinker (7-15 units of 30ml of alcohol per week). The premium is the same as that of a non-smoker. Customers who are healthy and have no vices can get a better deal with other online term plans.
  •  Again, a medical check-up is a good idea from the customers’ perspective. A check-up can’t catch all the medical problems and claims can still be rejected on non-disclosure grounds, but there is some proof with the customer in case the claim goes into litigation in case of claims rejection. Whether the product will have higher claim rejections due to lack of a medical test cannot be predicted at this time, but a customer aware of insurance intricacies would rather buy an insurance cover with a medical check-up rather than having the convenience of buying ‘instant’ life insurance.

Here is a comparison of the premiums for some online plans for SA of Rs1 crore and policy term of 20 years:

ICICI Pru iCare Product Details:




4 years ago

My experience with Aviva was good when I bought i-Life. The process took place in no time..

Madhusudan Thakkar

5 years ago

This is a revolutionary product .The main feature is NO MEDICAL till the age of 50 up to sum assured of Rs.1.50 crore.Many people are charged extra premium[loading] on small pretext based on findings in Blood & Heart reports.This will be beneficial to those people.In the days and months ahead other Insurance companies will also come out with similar plans

High net-worth Indians’ wealth grows 22% over 2008-09, touches $582 billion

Along with China, India has been the most consistent driver of wealth in the Asia-Pacific region, says a recent survey. The number of Asia’s high net-worth individuals grew 9.7% to 3.3 million, exceeding Europe for the first time 

It’s official now. Asia’s wealth is growing faster than Europe, despite inflationary concerns and growing population. The 2011 Asia-Pacific Wealth Report released yesterday by Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management & Capgemini says that this growth in wealth is an indication of the long-term fundamental strength of India’s economy, and rich individuals are increasing their exposure to equities, real estate, gems and jewellery.

Asia-Pacific’s population of high net-worth individuals (HNIs) grew 9.7% to 3.3 million in 2010, exceeding Europe’s for the first time and placing the region as the world’s second-biggest market after North America, according to the report. HNI wealth in India grew by 22% in 2009-10, amounting to $582 billion, as compared to $477 billion in 2008-09.

“India along with China has been the most consistent driver of Asia-Pacific wealth over the last couple of years,” said Atul Singh, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in India. “Despite inflation being a concern, real GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of 9.1% and a 24.9% increase in market capitalisation, is an indicator of the long-term fundamentals of India’s economy remaining solid and will help investors withstand volatility ahead.”

HNIs are defined as those having investable assets of $1 million or more, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables. Ultra-HNIs are defined as those having investable assets of $30 million or more, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables.

India’s population of HNIs increased their exposure to equities, real estate, gems and jewellery in 2010, reflecting regained confidence even as the financial crisis subsided.

Indian HNI investment in equities went up to 36% in 2010 from 32% in 2009, while real estate moved up marginally to 23% in 2010 as compared to 22% in 2009. India’s HNIs have 36% of their holdings in equities, higher than the global average at 33 percent.

The penchant for investment in gems and jewellery continues for rich Indians. HNIs increased their exposure to gems & jewellery up to 37% in 2010 from 33% in 2009. Indian HNI exposure to fixed income, alternative investments and cash/deposits is more or less at the same level ranging from 26% in 2010 from 25% in 2009; 6% in 2010 from 8% in 2009 and 9% in 2010 from 13% in 2009, respectively.

“Asia-Pacific remains a region of enormous wealth creation—spearheaded by China, India and Japan—which continues to outpace global levels,” said Pradeep Dokania, chairman, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management India. “The increasing sophistication and demands of Asia-Pacific HNIs mean that those wealth-management firms that can leverage across their businesses are best-placed to better serve their clients’ needs.”

As the majority of Asia-Pacific HNIs source their wealth from business ownership, wealth-management firms that can generate enterprise value—the ability to leverage capabilities from across different business units—will be able to serve their clients better, says the study. More HNIs in Asia-Pacific than in other regions believe it is important for wealth-management firms to create enterprise value, such as leveraging corporate & investment banking resources, as their businesses progress through different stages.

“Within Asia-Pacific, the importance of enterprise value is perceived to be one of the highest in India,” said Salil Parekh, CEO, Applications Services-US, UK & Asia of Capgemini. “Implementing such (an) approach in (the) Asia-Pacific (region) will require a well-defined market strategy to capture market-specific opportunities, especially in fast-growing emerging markets, like India. Among the key components will be firm-wide accountability, appropriate incentives, and integrated IT. Most importantly, firms will need to hone their strategy for each market, and not impose arbitrary standards from highly-developed markets.”

This is the second straight year in which India’s HNI population growth has been among the top gainers, fuelled by strong macroeconomic growth and by market performance. As per the findings of the report, in 2010, India’s HNI population grew at 20.8% to 1,53,000 compared with 1,26,700 in 2009. India was among the eight of the 20 fastest-growing Asia-Pacific markets in HNI population—including Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.



Nagesh Kini FCA

5 years ago

This clearly indicates that our HNIs, with all the taxation bounties are increasing by leaps and bounds with the poor driven to suicide, middle class burdened with galloping inflation and paying more taxes than HNIs. A few millions fall in the market values of their holdings are just flea bites to our tycoons, who may even be ignorant of their actual holdings. They, along with the netas and babus with a lot of cash income generated at home and money stashed abroad simply do not have to worry about food inflation issues. Everything is taken care off! Not to worry.

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