On July 16, 2004, a major fire broke out at the Sri Krishna School at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, killing 94 children and injuring 18 students. The fire accident, which remains one of the worst school tragedies in the country, shook the conscience of the nation. Later, the Justice Sampath Commission of Inquiry which carried out an investigation found that while the government had given permission and recognition only to one school, the school owners were running three schools in the same building with 800 students. It was because the school was overcrowded that the fire accident turned into a massacre.
More than a decade later, the government and private schools seem to have learned no lessons from the tragedy, say activists. A Narayanan, an education activist, recently filed an affidavit in the Madras High Court asking the court to squash recognition which is to be given to 746 matriculation schools which do not have proper infrastructure, safety certificate, norms incorporated in the National Building Code, land area in violation of earlier government orders, the Right to Education Act and Supreme Court directions.
‚ÄúThese 746 schools have been pending recognition because they have not fulfilled the norms. Now, the government is trying to give recognition to them through illegal government orders. We want these schools to be shut down and the students could be accommodated in other schools,‚ÄĚ said Narayanan, speaking to The News Minute.
‚ÄúThe Government order itself claims that 746 schools are not fulfilling the norms so the students cannot write exams in these unrecognized schools. So, the government is saying that for the welfare of the students we are allowing recognition to these schools,‚ÄĚ he added.
According to the affidavit, the matriculation schools were given extension of time in 2008 for three years, that is, till 2011. The reason for giving extension of time was that ‚Äėthe School managements expressed their inability to acquire the stipulated land area, as the cost of land had become very expensive‚Äô.
N. Vijayan, General Secretary, Federation of Matriculation Schools' Associations in Tamil Nadu however thinks that the question here is not safety of children, but of irrational school recognition norms. ‚ÄúFrom 1974, the private schools came into existence. In these years, so many different rules have come into place so we have asked the government that based on the earlier government‚Äôs rules and regulations grant them recognition. It is impossible to get an extra inch of land now. The new schools should be told to follow all the rules and regulations but the schools which have been functioning for more than 10 years should be exempted and provided recognition.‚ÄĚ
Narayanan said that the 746 school Managements have not been able to acquire the minimum composite land area and provide the minimum infrastructure, despite the Government giving them a very long time of 11 years.
He states in the affidavit, ‚ÄúThe School Education department has proceeded in such a brazen manner, completely ignoring the safety, security and educational future of the children in order to deliberately favour manipulative private school managements, for some ulterior motives.‚ÄĚ
The affidavit claims that the government has silently decided to favour private school lobby through the executive decisions, without any discussion in the Legislative Assembly.
Prince Gajendra Babu, another education activist, thinks that this is not just about these 700-odd schools, but a much larger issue. ‚ÄúIt is the responsibility of the school education department to see if they have public building certificate, licenses or fire safety certificates. In Tamil Nadu, right from the beginning there are several acts and guidelines, so no one knows what guideline which school is following,‚ÄĚ he said, adding that, ‚ÄúWe should bring it under one act which will cover all schools. It is not only 746 schools, many more schools are violating the norms there is no transparency. The Government is not acting on issues holistically.‚ÄĚ