n 1992, Navtej Johar returned to India after a gap of nine years and was dismayed to observe that Indian cities were just as chaotic and haphazard as he had remembered them, they continued to overlook the concerns and safety of the pedestrians, lacked attention-to-detail, and most of all were discourteous to the human body. The second despairing realization was to watch his young nieces and nephews whom he had left behind as pre-teens, now grown up and driving and behaving on the streets in the same manner as the generation before them did. And that was scary,” recalls Johar, because he was struck by the fact that if new generations would keep growing with the same mindset, then there was actually little scope for real change. It was then that he started to dream about a project that would target the indifferent attitude of us Indians (citizens and authorities alike) towards the “outside,” i.e. the streets, public property and facilities, and use children as catalysts of change.

In 1997, the 'Uphaar tragedy” that resulted in the death of 59 movie goers due to a fire started by a faulty transformer in the basement of the theater and more so because basic safety laws were flouted, further reinforced his resolve and in 2006 he initiated the Power of Seeing: Humane Urban Design Project

About Navtej Johar

Navtej Johar is a dancer, choreographer and a yoga exponent. He attributes his keen interest in urban design first to his pre-school years spent in an authentic Montessori kindergarten where everything was carefully designed to be child-friendly, safe, respectful and pleasant, and then to some degree to his growing up in Chandigarh (in the good old days, when it was spacious, safe, well articulated, and most of all easy on the eye!). Being a dancer and a yoga practitioner, his perspective is very body-centric; and he finds Indian cities to be disrespectful if not contemptuous of the human body. Johar finds the haphazard urban conditions, sweeping oversight of ground reality, disregard for the needs of the real people, perfunctory superimposition of foreign ideas, no attention-to-detail, colossal waste of resources, unreasonable laws and policies, basically the “suspension of common sense on Indian streets,” humorous yet unacceptable!

Uphaar Tragedy : It was during the matinee show on the first day of the release of Hindi movie, Border, Friday, June 13, 1997, at Uphaar cinema hall, New Delhi, that a fire started by a faulty transformer snuffed out the lives of 59 people who had gone to the cinema hall for some entertainment. More than 103 people were injured. The victims died not due to burn injuries, but due to asphyxia and an ensuing stampede, a result of sheer negligence on the part of the cinema hall owners. The man-made tragedy was a result of faulty design and haphazard improvisations, made with an utter disregard to common-place safely regulations.

According to the report on the inspection of Uphaar cinema complex conducted as per the orders of the Delhi High Court on September 12, 2003, to study the evidence, the second floor balcony of the theatre, where victims were asphyxiated to death by the smoke from the blaze, the space provided for exhaust fans on the walls was found blocked with the help of a cardboard. Further, the bolt of the exit door was found "half-detached", and there was no way of passage on the extreme right hand-side of the balcony as all the seats on the side joined the wall.

Devastated by the man-made tragedy, the 28 families came together and formed the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy to fight against every act of injustice as also against the apathetic attitude of the civic authorities.