Form district panels to inspect safety in schools, court tells govt.

Director of School Education told to strictly follow fire safety norms

The Madras High Court on Monday ordered the Director of School Education (DSE) to constitute district-level committees chaired by Chief Educational Officers (CEOs) and comprising experts to inspect all schools within their jurisdiction and find out if the buildings conform to the norms set by the government and whether they were safe for children.

First Division Bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose issued the interim direction on a public interest litigation petition filed by ChangeIndia, a non-governmental organisation represented by its director A. Narayanan, seeking a direction to the government to ensure that school buildings comply with norms set under the National Building Code.

After hearing arguments advanced by the petitioner, the judges directed additional government pleader E. Manohar to ensure that a counter affidavit on behalf of the State government was filed within a week.

She directed the petitioner to file a rejoinder, if he wanted to do so, within a week thereafter. Meanwhile, it ordered constitution of district-level committees.

The Bench directed the DSE to take note of the provisions of Part IV – Fire & Life Safety and the Code of Practice of Fire Safety in Educational Institutions of the Bureau of Indian Standards enumerated in the National Building Code, 2005 at the time of constituting the committees to inspect all schools, irrespective of their affiliation.

An eye-opener

Recalling the 2004 Kumbakonam fire tragedy in which 94 children were killed, the petitioner organisation stated that it led to a public interest litigation petition filed by Avinash Mehrotra in the Supreme Court.

While disposing of that petition in 2009, the Supreme Court issued a series of directions to all the States and Union territories on ensure safety of schoolchildren. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s directions remain only on paper in Tamil Nadu. Several unrecognised schools, claiming to impart Samacheer, CBSE, ICSE education, are allowed to function without any statutory inspection. Many schools run by both the government as well as private persons are functioning in dangerous conditions,” it claimed.

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