Fourteen years after the tragic fire that engulfed 94 children at the Krishna English Medium school in Kumbakonam, the Madras High Court has ordered the constitution of inspection committees across districts to ensure the safety of school buildings.
On Monday, the Madras High Court ordered the Director of the School Education to set up district level inspection committees. The committees will examine if all schools across Tamil Nadu are built as per the National Building Code of India guidelines.
The bench of Justices Indrani Banerjee and Abdul Quddhose elaborated on the mandate of the committees and stated that a thorough examination of all aspects of the safety of the school was to be carried out by the committee.
The committees are also directed to submit a report to the Madras High Court on the safety of school buildings and their adherence to the National Building Code on April 9.
The orders were in response to the petition filed by Narayanan of Change India, who contended that school safety guidelines existed merely as paper tigers and were not rigorously implemented.
Speaking to TNM, he said, âThe Right to Education says unrecognised schools should not run and they should not be recognised until they meet the required standards. Following the fire in Kumbakonam, the Supreme Court had given detailed directions to schools in India to follow the rules of the National Building Code of India. In Tamil Nadu, hundreds of schools are being opened by notorious elements, exploiting both parents and children with substandard buildings and compromised safety standards. The state is blind to that.â
âWhat happened in Kumbakonam can repeat itself. I hope the directions of the court will be the beginning of the process of cleaning up the system here. It should be possible to bring some orderliness in the school education system in Tamil Nadu, in both govt and private facilities,â he said.
On July 16, 2004, the thatched roof of the midday meal centre at the Krishna school caught fire, and the inferno quickly spread to the overcrowded school building, killing 94 children.
Following the tragedy, station masters of local fire departments were mandated to check safety level of schools in their jurisdictions. The height of school buildings was set at 30 metres as per the National Building Code of India.
In what came as a rude shock to the bereaved parents of the children who died in the fires, the Madras High Court ordered the release of seven accused in the case.
The court also truncated the sentence of two others, including the main accused Pulavar Palanisamy, the founder of the school and the cook Vasanthi, to a 'period already undergone' by them. One accused had died and therefore the case against her was abated. In effect, all of the accused in the case were freed.