Meerut fire tragedy: Former SC Judge S.B. Sinha appointed as one-member commission for investigation [Read the Judgment]
A Supreme Court bench comprised of Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice Dipak Misra today appointed former Judge S.B. Sinha to probe the 2006 Meerut fire tragedy which claimed the lives of 60 people.
The one-member commission was urged to submit the report by January 31, 2015. The Commission will record the evidence at Meerut and hear the arguments in Delhi. Requisite infrastructure, secretarial staff will be provided by the State, to the Commission for its smooth functioning and pay the fees of the Commission which shall be fixed by the Commission.
Earlier, former Allahabad High Court Judge O.P. Garg was appointed by the State Government as one-man Commission to inquire into the incident. Its findings however were opposed by the organizers saying that they were not heard.
They had submitted through their counsel, Mr. Shanti Bhushan, that no opportunity was provided to them to cross-examine the witnesses, even though they were directly affected by the said inquiry and the findings recorded by the Commission.
Mr. Gaurav Bhatia, representing the State stated that the liability that would be eventually determined, has to be apportioned between the State and the organizers and the same has to be done on percentage basis, that is to say, the liability of the organizers should be 85% and that of the State should be 15%.
The Court noticed absence of fire safety arrangements. It also noticed that the State had not ascertained whether the other statutory authorities had granted “No Objection Certificate” or not and also how far the organizers had complied with the directions. The Bench stated that, “The primary obligation of the State was to see whether the preparations made at the place of exhibitions by the organizers involved any risk or not and whether, there was proper arrangement for extinguishing the fire or not in the covered area.”
The Bench addressed the issue of public law remedy and liability on the State referring to several judgments and asked the UP government to pay an interim compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the family members of the deceased, Rs 2 lakh to the seriously injured. It found that there have been statutory violations and negligence on the part of the authorities in not taking due care while granting permission and during the exhibition was in progress.
The Government was directed to deposit the amount before the District Judge, Meerut, within two months who may nominate an Additional District Judge, on making summary enquiry. The amount then shall be paid to the legal representatives and the victims within one month from the date of deposit.
The organizer of the Consumer Electronic Fair was also directed to pay Rs 30 lakh with the Supreme Court Registry in order to hear its plea challenging the maintainability of Gupta’s plea.
The state government has already paid Rs two lakhs to the legal representatives of the persons who died and one lakh has been paid by the Central Government.
As far as seriously injured persons are concerned, Rs one lakh was paid by state and Rs 50,000 to the victims who have suffered simple injuries.
On April 10, 2006, the last day of the India Brand Consumer Show organized by Mrinal Events and Expositions at Victoria Park, Meerut, witnessed a devastating fire which allegedly sparked after a short circuit, claiming the lives of 64 and leaving hundreds injured.
Approximately 2000 people were at the fair when the fire broke out leading to stampede like situation which culminated in the tragedy.
The police had booked the organizers of the fair and some others but they failed to appear before the court and were declared absconders.
The petitioner, Sanjay Gupta sought a transfer of the investigation to CBI to bring the culprits, including officials responsible, to book.
He also alleged that the State Government was working hand in hand with the culprits as not even a single officer was suspended. The petitioner contended that the administration had demonstrated entirely callous stance. Even the dead bodies of the victims were allegedly bulldozed at the instance of the top officials including the then District Magistrate.