In the space of a week or so, two boys — Ankit Kumar and Divyansh Khosla — have lost their lives because their schools failed miserably to perform their basic responsibility: Ensure the safety of their wards inside their premises.
Both boys died after they fell into septic tanks left open and unguarded inside their schools. While Kumar was a student of a Municipal Corporation of Delhi-run school, Khosla went to Ryan International, a premier private school. In both cases, investigations are on but even without long-drawn probes that hardly achieve anything, it would not be wrong to say that if a septic tank is left open and unguarded within a school’s premises during school hours and a child falls into it, the authorities must own up responsibility and face the legal consequences for negligence.
Instead of accepting their fault, Ryan International took a shameful and cowardly stand, saying that Khosla was a special child (attention deficit disorder) and had wandered off. His parents have disputed this claim. In fact, the school’s claim and explanation do not pass muster because if he was a special child, there should have been extra precautions to avoid such an incident. In Kumar’s case too, the school authorities cannot escape responsibility.
The fact that the two incidents happened in schools at opposite ends of the spectrum shows that child safety is just a concept in India; there are no set frameworks or inspections and everyone wakes up when a tragedy happens.
After the two deaths, the Delhi government has ordered all schools to file safety reports within a month. In a letter to Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, Vijwasan MLA Devinder Sehrawat has urged the government to take ‘strong action against the delinquency of the school authority’ and has called for the cancellation of the school’s licence. While cancelling Ryan International’s licence would send out a strong signal, why target the private school only? What about the MCD’s own school? Surely, Kumar’s life was as precious as Khosla’s.
These boys are two additions to the long list of children who have died this way or have been injured due to the negligence of school authorities.
In 1993, Brinda died in a similar manner in Tamil Nadu. Last October there were two more cases. Then there are the infamous borewell accidents; these have become so routine that they fail to make it to the news.
In the past few years, several children have fallen into these open wells, most of which are illegally drilled in order to extract water in areas where groundwater is depleting. Asking for a compliance report on safety from schools or launching a ‘let’s-find-a-scapegoat-type’ probe after a borewell accident are knee-jerk reactions that will not achieve anything constructive. India needs much stronger and time-bound responses when it comes to the important and non-negotiable issue of child safety.