Delhi court convicts 12 in '97 theater blaze

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NEW DELHI -- A Delhi court on Tuesday convicted 12 people following a long legal battle in connection with a 1997 cinema fire that killed 59 patrons.

The tragedy led to new regulations for construction and safety of cinemas incorporated in the building of modern multiplexes.

Among those found guilty were theater owners Sushil and Gopal Ansal, owners of a well-known real estate company. In addition to the Ansals, the court also found government officers guilty for "causing death due to negligence," including two Municipal Corporation of Delhi officials and a Delhi Fire Service officer.

All face varying prison sentences -- from two years to life imprisonment -- details of which are expected Wednesday.

"The promise to my children has been kept, but still I still have a long way to go, since I have not got what I want. The Ansals ... have been convicted under a lighter sentence -- rash or negligent action -- which is shocking, because it means a maximum imprisonment of only two years, working out to about 12 days in jail for every person who died, a travesty of justice," said Neelam Krishnamoorthy, president of the Association for Uphaar Tragedy Victims, who lost both her teenaged children in the fire. She added that she will challenge the sentence in a higher court.

The legal counsel for the Ansals also said that they will appeal the sentence.

On June 13, 1997, a fire broke out at a cinema in the Uphaar area of Delhi, following an electrical short circuit. Some exit routes were blocked, which made it difficult for patrons to escape, leading to the 59 deaths.

In 2006, an inquiry concluded that if the gangway and doors to the exit stairs at the venue had not been blocked, the disaster could have been controlled.
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