–By Anil Chowdhury
The two recent incidents of attack on children inside their school premises in the national capital region of Delhi have sent shock waves across the country. Parents are up in arms asking the government and school managements to ensure that prescribed safety and security norms are followed by all schools, government as well as private. The media has been carrying versions and comments of anguished parents, school authorities, government officials and the police, all stakeholders offering their own explanations on how and why the task is beyond their competence.
The Delhi Education Minister and Directorate of Secondary Education has issued directives to all school managements to get all their staff verified by the police within one month. This is hardly going to help. From professional and personal experience, I can tell you that the Police Verification Forms, after being duly filled out, seldom come back. As a matter of routine, these would be dispatched to remote district SPs in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Northeastern states, with few getting replies. Most of the lower level staff in Delhi come from economically backward remote and far flung areas. Just getting the police verification cards filled out will get
Securing a premises requires a complex multi-layered screening process with the help of technical gadgetry, manned by skilled and alert security personnel, to ensure that all potentially lethal objects and persons are kept out, to the extent possible. This begins with an impregnable outer perimeter wall and fencing and a sharp eye on all ingress and egress points to the premises, round the clock. Regular fire and other emergency drills must be conducted. Connectivity with the jurisdictional police and fire services should be failure-proof and tested. All these measures call for on-the-spot audits and regular inspections by experienced security professionals, who are unfortunately in short supply in our country.
As a grandparent of schoolgoing children, I share the concerns being expressed. But as a security professional with about 40 years of experience, I am not convinced that all this hullabaloo will get us anywhere near what is required to be done on the ground.
Here is my take on how the problem needs to be tackled. One, neither the school managements nor the directorates of education have the wherewithal to carry out the requisite security audits and surveys. The hands of the police are too full to do this.
Two, the only way forward, in my view, is to ask experts — there is no dearth of retired security officers in the NCR — to prepare a panel of professionally manned and managed licensed private security companies, based on careful and objective evaluation of their capabilities and capacities.
The Directorate of Education should then ask all school managements to get the audits of their school premises conducted by any one of them, within a stipulated time frame to be followed up by regular and periodical reviews to ensure that the safety and security measures are made as foolproof as possible. This will definitely involve cost to the school managements but this expense will be insignificant compared to the huge profits they have been raking in for years. The dividends in terms of safety of our children will be high and immensely valuable. The school authorities have to be suitably cautioned that failure to do so shall entail punishment and even termination of NOCs.
The ministers for education of NCR Delhi should convene forthwith meetings of representatives of all bodies including the police and invite former police and security experts to serve as advisers to monitor progress.
But is someone willing to listen to sane advice and act upon it? My hunch, based on years of experience, is that the heat and dust will gradually settle down and life shall go on as before.