An eerie silence prevailed in the Millennium School in Kothrud on Wednesday, with a board at the entrance reading that the school had been closed for a day to mourn the death of Class 3 student Riya Kadam.
Riya had died during the swimming practice organised by the school at the Mengade swimming pool run by Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) on Tuesday evening.
At the school on Wednesday, only a handful of non-teaching staff and school’s director Anvit Sudheer Pathak were present to meet visitors. Many of the staff members had been doing the rounds of the police station, he said.
Terming the incident as shocking, Pathak said it was the first time that any such incident had occurred in the last 12 years since the school’s swimming programme was started.
“Our school does not have a swimming pool. But we encourage Class 3 students to learn swimming as part of basic life skills. It is not mandatory. Those students whose parents object are made to take yoga classes instead. Since we have a large number of students in Class 3, we send students in batches of 30-35 for an intensive programme for about six weeks. In this batch, 30 students had gone to the pool accompanied by one teacher, two male and two female attendants,” said Pathak.
He said that before selecting the pool, the school authorities had done a “recce” and even collected the documents to ensure lifeguards were certified ones.
According to Pathak, this was not the first class being attended by the student who he claimed also knew how to swim.
“The students went at 3.30 pm for the one-hour session and this incident happened towards the end. This wasn’t Riya’s first class and she knew how to swim. In fact, she had done a few laps of the swimming pool on that day too. The pool has a depth of 3 feet to 6 feet and she was swimming in the middle area. Our teacher was the first one to notice her struggling and she alerted the lifeguard in the pool who was standing barely a few feet away,” said Pathak.
He claimed Riya was pulled out within a minute, her stomach was pumped and CPR started but since she didn’t respond, she was rushed in the school bus to Shashwat Hospital and her parents were called there. It was here that she was pronounced dead.
“We have questioned our teacher and staffers. They kept saying they were near the pool side watching the children and pulled her out as soon as she started struggling. There were 30 children around her. Two lifeguards also were present. It baffles us what must have happened. However, despite taking all precautions if this incident has occurred, we have to seriously question if the lifeguards are adequately trained to handle such situations. For the time being, we have given one-day holiday as we needed time to recover and co-operate with authorities. We have suspended the swimming programme and will have a meeting with PTA representatives on Thursday,” said Pathak, adding that the school has decided to organise counselling for all 30 students who witnessed the unfortunate incident to help them cope with the shock.
Meanwhile, at Riya’s residence in Lokmanya Colony, relatives sat huddled quietly at the entrance to the building, guarding against any mediapersons who might want to talk to the grieving parents. “Please understand and leave them alone. They have lost their only child and cannot speak about it right now,” said a cousin.
Standing in a corner, the eight-year-old deceased girl’s grandfather suddenly spoke up, “We do have things to say but we are holding it off for a couple of days. It shouldn’t be that we say things in a fit of anger,” said Jaywant Kadam, father of Nitin Kadam.
However, he said he was tracking media reports and would soon nail the school’s “lies”. “Some media reports said she was ill before entering the pool. If that is the case, what was the need to take her into it? The school is lying that she knew swimming. She didn’t know it and that’s why she was learning it,” he added.
Satish Kulkarni, deputy municipal commissioner (estate and management), said that though the Mengade swimming pool near Cummins College where incident occurred is owned by PMC, it is being managed by a private contractor. “From preliminary inquiries, we have found that three lifeguards were present on that day. Along with police, we are also inquiring what exactly happened there,” he said. The pool too was closed on Wednesday.