Two contradictory reports submitted by the department of school education, Punjab, and local government, Punjab, in the Supreme Court and Punjab and Haryana high court have raised questions over seriousness of authorities concerned regarding the safety of students.
In 2011, the Punjab school education department had submitted an affidavit in the court, saying around 23,867 out of 24,150 schools in the state (around 98.3 % of the schools) had installed fire-fighting equipment. The Supreme Court had then directed the education secretaries of each state and union territories to file an affidavit of compliance.
However this year, Ludhiana-based Rohit Sabharwal had filed a contempt petition (COCP-969-2014) in the high court against the education department for not complying with the court orders.
Following the petition, the local government had filed a status report that government schools in Patiala, Barnala, Kartarpur, Batala, Gurdaspur and 15 government schools in Malout had no fire safety equipment. Not only that, the report also stated many private schools in the state also lacked on the safety front. The affidavit filed by the local government had not mentioned the details about fire safety measures taken by the Ludhiana schools.
The report also stated it had no information about schools in many other districts of the state. The next hearing is scheduled to be held on February 10 next year.
Sabharwal alleged: “The affidavit filed by the department of school education in the apex court was misleading as many schools in Punjab lack fire-safety equipment, which is a cause of concern for everyone.”
It is worth mentioning that a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court after as many as 93 children were burnt alive in Lord Krishna Middle School of district Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu in 2004.
Punjab education minister Daljit Singh Cheema, said, “The director general of school education, Punjab, can provide proper details about the number of schools in Punjab that have installed fire-safety extinguishers. However, I am also aware that most schools in state exist without the safety equipment.”
When asked about two different reports submitted in the court, he said, “We must submit correct reports.”
Assistant divisional fire officer, Ludhiana, Bhupinder Singh, said, “Though we don’t have proper record, it’s true that very few schools are applying to get the fire safety certificates.”
Supreme Court guidelines
The Supreme Court of India has directed all private and government schools to implement National Building Code of India, 2005. Before granting recognition or affiliation, the concerned state government and union territories are directed to ensure that the buildings are safe and secured from every angle and they are constructed according to the safety norms incorporated in the national building code of India.
All existing government and private schools must install fire safety extinguishing equipment within a period of six months. The school building must be kept free from inflammable and toxic material. If storage is inevitable, they should be stored safely.
Evaluation of structural aspect of the school may be carried out periodically. The concerned engineers and officials are directed to follow the NBC and safety certificate will be issued only after proper inspection. Dereliction in duty must attract disciplinary action.
Narrow escape at govt school
On May 12, as many as 170 students of Government Primary School, Girls, Jawahar Nagar, Ludhiana, had a narrow escape when the fire broke out in the mid-day meal kitchen. There was only one fire safety extinguisher installed at the school, but teachers did not even know how to use it. The incident had happened due to the leakage of gas from the LPG cylinder.