Thirteen years after the school fire at Kumbakonam left 94 kids dead, the Madras High Court has ordered the release of seven accused in the case, which has come as a rude shock for the families of the victims.
The case was heard by Justice Sathya Narayan and Justice Velumani. They dismissed the charges against seven of the 10 accused and asked them to pay modified fines, without specifying the reason for acquittal.
The court also truncated the sentence of two others, including the main accused Pulavar Palanisamy, and the cook Vasanthi, to a 'period already undergone' by them. One accused has died and therefore the case against her has been abated.
Effectively, this means that all of the accused have been freed.
The court also dismissed the appeal by the state government against the release of the accused.
Last year, the Madras High Court had awarded compensation of Rs 5 lakh with interest from the date of accident, to the families of the children killed in the Kumbakonam fire.
Speaking to TNM, K Inbaraj, (49), who lost two of his children in the accident said, “The court took 10 years to arrest the 10 accused and now, in three years, they are releasing them. What justice is this? It hurts our feelings. We want the Tamil Nadu government to take this case further to Supreme Court. We will keep fighting till we get justice,” he says.
Inbaraj’s sons, Praveenraj (then eight) and Anandraj (then 10) died in the fire.
On July 16, 2004, a fire broke out in the kitchen of Sri Krishna Middle School and later spread to the first floor through the thatched roof top. More than 700 children were enrolled in three schools, illegally run by the owners.
A total of 94 students died in the blaze. The investigation showed that there was only one staircase for the children to exit and there was no proper fire safety equipment in the school.
In 2012, the court set up a commission to conduct an inquiry into the case and 24 people were held responsible for the incident. These included the founder of the school, Prabhakaran, the headmaster of the Sri Krishna Girls High School, ‘Pulavar’ Palanisamy, the school correspondent, Saraswathi, her adopted daughter, Santhalakshmi, the then Municipal Commissioner, Sathyamurthy, the then Town Planning Officer, K Murugan, three school teachers and Education Department officials.
A Thanjavur district court on July 30, 2014 had convicted 10 accused and acquitted 11 people in the case.
The owner of the school was given a 10-year jail term and a fine of Rs 47 lakh was slapped on the school headmaster, who was also sentenced to life imprisonment.