Angels of Hope: What Delhi owes to the families of Uphaar victims

New Delhi, Jan 22 (IANS)
Barely 17 days after the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy that snuffed out 59 innocent lives, Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost both their children on that fateful day, formed an association.
It is a 28-family strong registered society now, known as the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT).
In AVUT’s 26-year-long legal battle, one of the most crucial prayers that was heard by the court in 2015 was setting up of a new trauma centre, now called AIIMS Jai Prakash Narayan Apex Trauma Centre in Safdarjung Enclave.
On June 13, 1997, when 59 lives were lost due to asphyxiation during the screening of J.P. Dutta’s ‘Border’ at the Uphaar Cinema, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the Safdarjung Hospital, both barely a kilometre from the theatre, were totally unprepared to handle the disaster.
There was only one ambulance to transport the injured persons to the hospitals. Most of the injured persons were taken to the hospitals in PCR vans. Some were also taken by private vehicles, some by SDM vehicles and some others by local tempos.
Today, the Jai Prakash Narayan Apex Trauma Centre is operational and instrumental in saving many precious lives.
In August 2015, the Supreme Court had imposed a fine of Rs 60 crore on Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, the cinema owners, and the amount was apaid to the Delhi government to set up another trauma centre in Dwarka.
In 2009, the Law Ministry had forwarded AVUT’s petition seeking legislation for prevention of manmade tragedies in public places to the Law Commission, directing it to come out with a law to deal with such disasters on priority basis.
In 2012, the Law Commission published a consultation paper on dealing with man-made disasters. AVUT’s endeavour is to get this legislation passed on a priority basis.
Meanwhile, AVUT has also been organising seminars, panel discussions and inter-school debates in order to create awareness about the value for human lives
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the members of AVUT used to sit together to remember their loved ones gone too soon at ‘Smriti Upavan’, the memorial built in front of Uphaar cinema.
The memorial park has a black granite structure that stands near the wall and all the names and date of birth of the 59 victims are etched on it.
In the tragic incident, in which the Krishnamoorthys lost their two kids, Unnati (17) and Ujjwal (13), Naveen Sawhney had lost his 21-year-old daughter, Tarika.
At that time, Tarika was engaged to a boy living in the US and they were about to get married. She was pursuing her graduation in computer science from Delhi University.
Mohan Lal Sehgal, a retired project manager at IIT-Delhi, lost his 21-year-old son Vikas Sehgal.
Satya Pal Sudan, who passed away last year, lost seven members of his family, including his month-old granddaughter Chetna. The tiny body was found nestled in her mother’s arms.

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