All you need to know about Kumbakonam fire tragedy that killed 94 children

The incident which sparked a huge conversation about safety standards in schools and led to a massive uproar over the condition in which the school in Kumbakonam was operating.

FP Staff July 30, 2014 14:23:45 IST
All you need to know about Kumbakonam fire tragedy that killed 94 children

The case surrounding the horrifying tragedy, where 94 children were burnt to death in a school in Tamil Nadu's Kumbakonam over a decade ago, came to a close after a district court convicted ten accused including the owner of the school and acquitted 11 today.

What happened in the fire

- The incident took place on 16 July, 2004 at Sri Krishna Middle School around 10 am when the noon meal was being prepared in the school kitchen that had a thatched roof. The roof caught fire when a spark from the burning firewood fell on it and spread to the thatched roof of the classroom where several children were studying, The Hindu reported. Sri Krishna Aided Private School, Saraswathi Nursery and Primary School and the Sri Krishna Girls High School, all functioned in the same building where close to 700 students were studying.

All you need to know about Kumbakonam fire tragedy that killed 94 children

Representational image. PTI

- The inferno, which raged for an hour, left bodies of the children burnt beyond recognition. By 11 am, firefighters and other authorities had started to break down the concrete structure because the only way in to the classroom was a single staircase, reported the Hindu.

Aftermath

- Investigations showed that the school did not have fire safety equipment, NDTV reported.

- The incident which sparked a huge conversation about safety standards in school, saw a massive uproar from parents and civil society alike over the condition in which the school was operating. While the case was transferred from court to court for the first few years, the trial gathered pace after charges were framed by on 10 September 2012, The Hindu reported.

- A commission was set up to conduct an inquiry into the incident under Justice K Sampath. The report of the inquiry showed that

- Justice K Sampath Commission of Inquiry was tabled in the Assembly on 2 September, 2005 and accepted 8 days later. The inquiry put the blame squarely on the owner of the school, and Education Department officials.

- The Justice Sampath Commission observed that the violation of safety norms and poor infrastructure were the main causes for the tragedy. The commission report said:

"It was avaricious cruelty on the part of the management to have made so many innocent children sit in the classes under the thatched roof and lose their precious lives. The authorities had been hoodwinked or purchased outright for allowing the management to run three schools where not even one school could be run."

According to a report in Frontline, the school and government authorities had defied the law at every step. "The government awarded "conditional recognition" to schools at regular intervals, stipulating the same "conditions" every time. The management did not bother to fulfill the conditions, nor did the government bother to ensure compliance," the report says.

- The government filed a 5,000 page chargesheet naming 21 accused which included the founder of the school Prabhakaran; the headmaster of the Sri Krishna Girls High School, ‘Pulavar’ Palanisamy - the school correspondent; his wife Saraswathi; their adopted daughter, Santhalakshmi; the then Municipal Commissioner, Sathyamurthy; the then Town Planning Officer, K. Murugan; three school teachers; and Education Department officials.

- However, the case against three education department officials was dropped. The Hindu reported, "The State government withdrew the case against C Palanisamy, the then Chief Educational Officer, Thanjavur; S Paramasivam, the then Kumbakonam Tahsildar; and A Kannan, the then Director of Elementary Education."

Verdict

- 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.

- Those found guilty under these sections were Palanisamy, owner and founder of the school, his wife and correspondent Saraswathi, headmistress Santhalakshmi, noon meal organiser Vijayalakshmi and cook Vasanthi.

- The police had chargesheeted 21 persons under various Sections of IPC including 304 (Culpable Homicide not amounting murder) read with 120-B (conspiracy) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others).

- The police in the 5,000 page chargesheet, had also charged the accused under 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.

- Of the total of 501 witnesses, 230 were examined during the trial, which included survivors (children) and parents of the deceased children.

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