If there’s one thing that private and state-run schools in South Delhi have in common, it is their poor state of preparedness for tackling disasters.
A Delhi government team that has been inspecting schools in the area stumbled upon various inadequacies in this regard, including expired fire extinguishers, empty sand buckets, first-aid boxes filled with expired medicines, and dry underground water tanks. The exercise revealed that almost every school has deficiencies that could prove disastrous in case of a fire or natural calamity.
The team, led by the district magistrate, has inspected 33 of 140 schools – both state-owned and private – until now. After this drive is completed, the government will launch similar exercises in other areas.
“We have to develop the habit of tackling disasters in every institution. As of now, checking on schools and the safety of our children happens to be our top priority. Shockingly, almost every school is guilty of one violation or another. Once every school is covered, we will ask them to rectify the deficiencies or face action,” said district magistrate (south) Amjad Tak, who is also the head of the area’s disaster management authority.
The area’s quick reaction team launched the inspection on January 30. The government plans to complete the exercise by February 15, after which it would prepare a detailed report.
“While some schools had partly damaged buildings, others lacked functioning fire extinguishers and adequate water in their underground tanks,” said Tak, adding that guidelines under the disaster management act mandate schools to have an evacuation plan – coupled with emergency numbers – displayed on their walls.
The institutions were asked to submit their disaster management plans by January 31.
In certain schools, the inspection team found local LPG cylinders being used in the chemistry laboratory. Sand buckets were displayed prominently, but they contained no sand that could be utilised in case of a fire. In yet another institution, the emergency exit – to be used by children to escape in the event of a disaster – was found to be locked.
“Our objective is not to punish schools, but to spread awareness among them. We are also training school staffers and children how to react if disaster strikes,” said Tak.
There have been several incidents in the past, when children lost their lives due to the school’s failure to respond. On January 30, 2016, a six-year-old boy drowned in a water tank at the Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj. A Delhi government investigation revealed procedural lapses on the part of the institution.
The next month, a nursery student fell into an open septic tank while he was heading to the toilet. The school principal was arrested and released on bail in both the cases.