Kumbakonam school fire tragedy: Court delivers final verdict, held 10 held guilty

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Photos of victims of Kumbakonam fire tragedy
Ten years have passed since a deadly fire consumed 94 innocent lives and injured 18 others at a school in Kumbakonam, but the trauma still continues to haunt the affected families.

The accident was the one of the four major fire accidents and largest school accident in Tamil Nadu, and second in terms of casualties for fire incidents in schools in the country.

A Thanjavur district court on Wednesday delivered final verdict in the case convicting ten accused, and acquitting 11. Among those convicted is the school owner.

The tragedy occurred on July 16, 2004, when a fire broke out in kitchen of Krishna English Medium School. The fire in the kitchen, which was used to prepare midday meals for the children soon spread to the first floor due to thatched roof of the school. At the time of the incident, over 200 children were in the thatched roof class room.

The tragedy claimed the lives of 94 children, all between the ages of five and nine.

Startling revelations by Sampath Committee

The committee setup under retired Judge Sampath held the school management responsible for the whole accident. The "avarice and shady dealings" of management at the primary school, which "violated all safety norms," was responsible for the school fire tragedy said the Committe report.

It found out that the major reason for the heavy casualty is the false tactics of the management to bring the other two school students to the aided primary school to mislead the inspecting authorities about the student-teacher ratio.

Investigation also revealed that the teachers were not trained in disaster management.

The fire officials said that the laws were not followed while building the school as it had a thatched kitchen and classroom roof. Report said it was a "death trap".

It also stated that the schools had inadequate exit facilities and had no firefighting capabilities.

As for allegations that many school's teachers escaped themselves soon after the fire began, instead of staying behind to help save their students, the Sampath Commission noted that, in fact, credit for the children who escaped must go to the teachers. "There was only lack of judgement on the part of the teachers, and not culpable negligence," the report said.

It came to light later that three schools, including a government-aided institution, functioned in the same building even without a municipal license.

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 which was a clear violation of norms laid down by Education Department.

The case so far

The trial began after a long delay on 24 September 2012 in the Thanjavur district court.

A total of 21 people including the owners of the building, teachers and government officials were accused in the case. Nearly 230 witnesses have been examined so far in the case.

Though there were 24 accused initially, the State Government had withdrawn the charges against three.

A total of 17 people were charge-sheeted in the case.

The final arguments concluded at the District and Sessions Court on 17 July.

Three teachers were accused of showing negligence in rescuing the students.

Education Department officials have been accused of negligence of their duties.

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