Fire raged and “Border” the film continued unstopped on June 13,1997: SC docs show how horror unfolded at Uphaar

Supreme Court records, New Delhi, February 9,2017

Supreme Court on Thursday pronounced one year imprisonment to Gopal Ansal, one of the two accused in the Uphaar tragedy

Uphaar Cinema building, situated on a plot of 2480 square yards at Green Park Extension Shopping Centre, New Delhi, comprised a cinema auditorium with a sanctioned capacity of 750 seats besides a balcony with a sanctioned capacity of 250 seats. The cinema auditorium comprised the first floor of the cinema complex while the balcony was constructed on the second floor. The ground floor of the building comprised a parking lot besides three separate rooms on the western side, one of which was used for placing a 500 KVA electric transformer that supplied electric energy to the cinema theatre while the other was used for housing a 1000 KVA transformer that was installed and maintained by the Delhi Vidyut Board (hereinafter referred to as “DVB”). It is common ground that the second transformer even though located within the cinema premises, did not supply electricity to the cinema but rather to some of the tenants occupying parts of the commercial complex that formed a part of the building and some other consumers from the locality.
5. The prosecution case is that on 13th June, 1997 at about 6.55 a.m. the bigger of the two transformers installed and
maintained by DVB on the ground floor of the Uphaar Cinema building caught fire. The fire was brought under control by 7.25 a.m. Inspection of the transformer by the
Superintendant of the DVB and his team revealed that three of the low tension cable leads of the transformer had been
partially burnt. At about 10.30 a.m., B.M. Satija (A-9) and A.K. Gera (A-10), Inspectors from DVB along with Senior Fitter, Bir Singh (A-11) conducted repairs on the transformer by replacing two aluminium sockets on the B-Phase of the low tension cable leads. The repairs, it appear(s) were carried out with the help of a dye and hammer without the use of a crimping machine. The transformer was recharged for resumption of electric supply by 11.30 a.m. on 13th June, 1997.
6. The prosecution alleges that repairs conducted on the transformer in the earlier part of the day were unsatisfactory
and resulted in loose connections that caused sparking on the B-Phase of the transformer where such repairs were
carried out. This resulted in the loosening of one of the cables of the transformer which eventually came off and started dangling loose along the radiator and burnt a hole in the radiator fin. Through this hole the transformer oil started
leaking out which, on account of the heat generated by the loose cable touching against the radiator, ignited the oil at
about 4.55 p.m. on 13th June, 1997. Since the transformer did not have an oil soak pit as required under the regulations
and the standard practice, the oil that spread out of the enclosure continued leaking and spreading the fire to the
adjacent parking lot where cars were parked at a distance of no more than a metre from the door of the transformer.
The result was that all the cars parked in the parking area on the ground floor of the cinema hall were ablaze. Smoke started
billowing in the northern and southward directions in the parking lot of the cinema complex. The northern bound smoke encountered a gate which was adjacent to a staircase leading to the cinema auditorium on the first floor. Due to
chimney effect, the smoke gushed into the stairwell and eventually entered the cinema auditorium through a door
and through the air conditioning ducts.
The southward bound smoke similarly travelled aerially through another staircase and into the lower portion of the balcony of the auditorium from the left side. All this happened while a large number of people were seated in the auditorium enjoying the matinee
show of ‘BORDER’, a popular Hindi movie with a patriotic theme. Because of smoke and carbon monoxide released by
the burning oil and other combustible material, the people in the auditorium started suffocating.
7. The Shift In-charge of the Green Park Complaint Centre of DVB received a telephonic message from K.L. Malhotra (A-
4), since deceased, who was the Deputy General Manager of Uphaar Cinema at the relevant point of time, regarding the
fire. It was only then that the AIIMS grid to which the transformer in question was connected was switched off and
the flow of energy to the cinema complex stopped.
According to the prosecution the supply of the 11 KV outgoing Green Park Feeder tripped off at 5.05 p.m. thereby discontinuing the supply of energy to the cinema.
8. Inside the auditorium and balcony there was complete pandemonium. The people in the balcony are said to have rushed towards the exits in pitch darkness as there were neither emergency lights nor any cinema staff to help or guide them. The prosecution alleged that no public
announcement regarding the fire was made to those inside the auditorium or the balcony, nor were any fire alarms set
off, no matter the management and the employees of the Uphaar Cinema were aware of the fact that a fire had broken
Even the Projector Operator was not given instructions to stop the film while the fire was raging nor was any patron informed about the situation outside. On the contrary, the doors to the middle entrance of the balcony were found to be bolted by the gatekeeper-Manmohan Uniyal (A-8) who had left his duty without handing over charge to his reliever.
More importantly, the prosecution case is that the addition of a private 8-seater box had completely closed off the exit on
the right side of the balcony, while the addition of a total of 52 extra seats over the years had completely blocked the
gangway on the right side of the balcony. Similarly, the gangway on the right of the middle entrance was significantly
narrower than required under the regulations. It was alleged that Sushil Ansal (A-1) and Gopal Ansal (A-2), the owners of the cinema hall, had knowledge of these deviations from fire safety norms despite which they had continued exhibiting films, thereby endangering the lives of all those who patronized the theatre. All these obstructions, deviations,
violations and deficiencies had, according to the prosecution, resulted in the victims getting trapped in the balcony for at
least 10-15 minutes exposing them to lethal carbon monoxide, to which as many as 59 persons eventually succumbed.
9. Rescue operations attempted by the fire tenders from the Bhikaji Cama Place and Safdarjung Fire Stations were undertaken after the Delhi Fire Service received a complaint from K.L. Malhotra (A-4), since deceased, at 5.10 p.m. The fire tenders took nearly forty five minutes to one hour to
extinguish the fire and to rescue the persons trapped in the balcony by opening the bolted doors and taking those who
had collapsed and those injured to the hospitals. No one from the staff or management of the theatre was, according to the prosecution, present at the spot to lend a helping hand in the rescue operations. 

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