A trial court in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur on Wednesday sentenced the founder and the headmistress of a private school in Kumbakonam to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment after it found them guilty of a fire accident that killed 94 children.
Earlier, the court had held 10 persons, including the owner and principal of Sri Krishna Middle School in Kumbakonam, guilty of a fire accident that took place a decade ago on July 16, 2004.
The founder of Sri Krishna Middle School, Pulavar Palaniswamy, his wife and correspondent of the school, Saraswathy, headmistress Santhalakshmi, chartered engineer Jayachandran, elementary education officer Balaji, assistant elementary education officer Sivaprakasam and PA to elementary education officer Thandavan were all sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment and asked to pay a fine of Rs. 47 lakh.
The charred building of a school fire in the town of Kumbakonam, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) southwest of Chennai. (AP Photo)
Noon meal organiser Vijayalakshmi and cook Vasanthi were sentenced to five years RI and were imposed a fine of Rs. 25 lakh. The court, however, acquitted 11 other people in the case.
“We have been waiting for the judgment for the past 10 years. We had expected punishment for all the 21 accused," a parent told a news channel.
Another parent expressed her shock over the judgment that acquitted 11 others in the case.
Video: Ten pronounced guilty in Kumbakonam school fire tragedy case
A mother, who lost her two children, said that the government officials should not left to go free.
"The government officials should be punished. If it is done it would be a lesson for others," she said.
Some of the parents who lost their children were present at the court hearing and urged the government to appeal against the acquittal of the 11 accused.
The fire broke out in the school's noon meal centre housed in a thatched room on the first floor of the building. Some 200 students were present when the fire broke out.
A student walks by Sri Krishna Girls Higher Secondary School that was gutted by fire in Kumbakonam, 320 km (200 miles) southwest of Chennai. (Reuters Photo)
A few other schools also functioned from the same premises, like the Sri Krishna aided private school, Saraswathi Nursery and Primary School, and the Sri Krishna Girls High School.
The school building had inadequate exit routes for the children to escape and the gates were locked when the accident happened. Burning thatch and the bamboo poles also blocked the exit routes preventing the children from escaping.
The fire could be controlled only after an hour.
Though the accident shook the nation and several cases were lodged against the officials of the school management and the state government, the cases moved from one court to another for years.
The case started to gather pace when charges were framed against the 21 accused in 2012 and trial began soon after that.
The voluminous charge sheet in the case has around 4,000 pages.
Among the 10 convicted under the Indian Penal Code sections 304 part 2, 338 and other offences included Palanisamy, his wife Saraswathi, daughter Santhanalakshmi, the then municipal commissioner Sathyamurthy, the then town planning officer K Murugan, three school teachers and officials of the state education department.
The headmaster of Sri Krishna Girls High School Prabhakaran turned approver.
Around 230 prosecution witnesses were examined.
The Tamil Nadu government has constructed a memorial park in Kumbakonam in memory of the 94 children who lost their lives.
Even today, there is a big banner, sporting small pictures of the children who lost their lives, outside the now defunct school at Kasiraman Street in Kumbakonam.
A relative cries over the grave of a girl who was killed in a massive school fire at a burial ground in Kumbakonam, 320 km (200 miles) southwest Chennai. (Reuters Photo)
(With PTI and IANS inputs)