Tuesday 21 October 2014

10 guilty in India school fire

Published 30/07/2014 | 12:39

Indian police officers inspect the burnt remains of the school building in Kumbakonam. (AP)

Ten people have been convicted over a 2004 fire that tore through a thatched-roof schoolhouse in India, killing 94 children.

The owner of the primary school, his wife, the headmistress and the meal planner were among those convicted of culpable homicide and endangerment. They are due to be sentenced later.

The Thanjavur district court in Tamil Nadu state acquitted 11 other defendants.

The case drew attention to the numerous ill-equipped private schools in India, many lacking basic safety measures such as fire alarms and sprinklers. State investigators said the school had no firefighting equipment and poor exit facilities.

One of the surviving students, Madhumita, blamed "the carelessness of the teachers" for the deaths in Kumbakonam, a temple town about 200 miles southwest of Tamil Nadu's state capital, Chennai.

None of the teachers died in the fire.

The blaze started in the school's kitchen, where lunch was being prepared on a log fire. The flames spread quickly through the three-storey building, trapping hundreds of children.

Primary schools in India typically teach students aged four to 10.

Many of the children were burned beyond recognition as the fire brought down the roof of bamboo logs and coconut leaves. Others were suffocated by black smoke or trampled as panicked students tried to tear through the brick and concrete walls.

Almost all the victims were from poor families of labourers, shopkeepers and low-paid government employees.

With India's court system backlogged, the trial began in 2012 and included evidence from hundreds of people including survivors and parents of those killed.

According to a 2005 report by a state investigating committee, the school had brought in students from two other schools to show inspectors that classrooms were filled with more than 700 children under its care.

Investigators also said the school's employees had no training in disaster management.

Press Association

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