More than a decade after the gruesome school fire in which 94 children were charred to death and 18 others seriously injured, the final verdict of the case probing the 2004 Kumbakonam accident will be delivered by the District and Sessions Court on Wednesday.
Twenty one persons have been named in the charge sheet filed by the prosecution, which runs to over 5,000 pages. Principal District and Sessions Judge Mohamed Ali will deliver the final judgement in the case on Wednesday. The final arguments concluded at the District and Sessions Court here on July 17. Though there were 24 accused initially, the state government had withdrawn the charges against three of them.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.
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The 21 accused include the school correspondent, his wife, their adopted daughter, the then Kumbakonam Municipal Commissioner and a Town Planning Officer, besides some Education Department officials in the case. The trial commenced on September 24, 2012. The prosecution has contented that the first three accused had not followed the rules and regulations of the Education Department, while the Municipal Commissioner and Town Planning Officer failed in their duty to inspect the noon meal shed, which led to the spark and spread of the fire.