More than a decade after the gruesome school fire in which 94 children were charred to death and 18 others seriously injured, a District and Sessions Court on Wednesday convicted 10 persons and acquitted 11 others in the ghastly school fire tragedy in Kumbakonam.
The founder of the school was sentenced to life imprisonment along with the fine of Rs 51 lakh. Pronouncing the quantum of punishment, the court sentenced teh cook, the headmistress, the cook and the meal organiser to 10 years in jail. Principal District and Sessions Judge Mohammed Ali pronounced the verdict in the packed court hall amid tight security as parents and relatives of the deceased children assembled outside the court.
Of the convicted, five persons were held guilty under various IPC sections including 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter), and provisions of Tamil Nadu Recognised Private Schools (Regulation) Act, 1973.
School owner, head mistress and principal of the school are among those convicted.
Out of the 21 persons named in the charge sheet filed by the prosecution, 11 including three teachers were acquitted by the court.
Though there were 24 accused initially, the state government had withdrawn the charges against three of them.
Of the total of 501 witnesses, 230 were examined during the trial, which included survivors (children) and parents of the 94 children, who lost their lives. The tragic incident which brought to light poor safety conditions for children in schools across the country occurred on July 14, 2004 in Kumbakonam, when a fire sparked from the make-shift noon meal kitchen spread to the thatched hut in the first floor and killed 94 children.
At the time of the incident, over 200 children were in the thatched roof class room. The narrow building on Kasiraman Street, which housed three schools together – Sri Krishna Aided Private School, Saraswathi Nursery and Primary School and Sri Krishna Girls High School – with the students’ strength exceeding 700 – did not have necessary fire safety equipment.
Following the mishap police had registered a case under various IPC sections, including 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) read with 120-B (conspiracy) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others). Besides, Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 46 and 47 of the Tamil Nadu Recognised Private Schools (Regulation) Act, 1973 and section 320 of the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act were also slapped on the accused.
(With PTI inputs)