A decade after a school fire tragedy claimed the lives of 94 children in Kumbakonam, the school’s founder was Wednesday sentenced to life imprisonment while eight of the nine others convicted were awarded five years in jail by a local court.
Pronouncing the judgment in a packed court, Principal District and Sessions Court Judge Mohammed Ali also slapped a fine of Rs 47 lakh on Palanisamy, founder of the school, but acquitted 11 other accused, a majority of them government employees of the Education Department.
The judgment was received with disappointment by the parents of some of the deceased. Some parents said they would appeal against the aquittals.
The court also awarded Palanisamy 10 years rigorous imprisonment (RI) with both the sentences running concurrently.
Palanaisamy’s wife Saraswathi, the correspondent (administrator) of the school, headmistress Santhalakshmi, noon meal organiser Vijayalakshmi and cook Vasanthi were sentenced to five years RI and a total fine of Rs 3.75 lakh was imposed on them.
Of the five convicted officials of the education department, four were sentenced to five years imprisonment.
Jayachandran, a chartered engineer, was awarded two years RI under IPC section 465 (punishment for forgery) r/w197 and a fine of Rs 40,000 was imposed on him.
R Balaji, district elementary education officer, Sivaprakasam, assistant EEO, Thandavan, superintendent of elementary education department and G Durai Raj, private assistant to the DEEO, were sentenced to five years RI under IPC section 467 r/w 197 and a fine of Rs 10,000 each.
The judge ordered that out of the fine amount, compensation of Rs 50,000 each shall be paid to the parents of 94 deceased children, Rs 25,000 to those critically injured and Rs 10,000 to those who suffered minor injuries.
The accused were found 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.
The July 16, 2004 tragedy had shocked the nation after fire that broke out from the makeshift noon meal kitchen in the building housing three schools spread to a thatched roof hut on the first floor killing 94 children and causing burns to 18 others.