India jails school staff over 94 fire deaths

Fire tore through Tamil Nadu school, killing 94 children, while teachers and other adult school staff survived.

    Safety in Indian schools continues to be a problem, with a school in Srinagar burning to the ground last October [AP]
    Safety in Indian schools continues to be a problem, with a school in Srinagar burning to the ground last October [AP]

    An Indian court has convicted 10 people over a 2004 fire that killed 94 children in a thatch-roofed school.

    The owner of the primary school was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday for culpable homicide and endangerment. His wife, the headmistress, the cook and the meal planner were each imprisoned for five years, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

    The Thanjavur district court in Tamil Nadu also jailed five government education department officials for two to five years, and 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 escape routes.

    Teachers survived

    One of the surviving children, Madhumita, blamed `"the carelessness of the teachers'' for the deaths in Kumbakonam, a temple town about 320 kilometres southwest of Tamil Nadu's state capital, Chennai.

    None of the teachers died in the fire.

    "If they had considered the children as their own children, they would have saved us," Madhumita, whose sister died in the fire, told Indian media. "But they acted selfishly.''

    The blaze started in the school's kitchen, where lunch was being prepared on a log fire. The flames spread swiftly through the three-story 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 pupils tried to tear through the brick
    and concrete walls.

    Almost all the victims were from poor families.

    The trial began only in 2012 and included evidence from hundreds of people including survivors and parents of those killed.

    SOURCE: Associated Press


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