Nearly 80% of the 10,000-odd primary schools in Ahmedabad having classes I to VII can't produce recent proof to show their buildings are safe. Simply because the state government hasn't made it mandatory for them to conduct periodic building safety audits. In the event of an evacuation process during earthquake or fire, children would be in danger of stampedes or asphyxiation. The Kumbakonam fire tragedy five years ago in Tamil Nadu and Dabwali incident in Haryana in 1995 are tacit reminders of what could happen. Officials say many primary schools operate from unsafe buildings because of the requirement of one-acre space for 250 students in Bombay Primary Education (BPE) Act, 1949. 'In cities like Ahmedabad, we didn't have that kind of space to set up a primary school, so many clauses were compromised through subsequent notifications and amendments,' admits a senior state education official.
Today, you can see several primary schools operating from shopping complexes and apartments across the city. Nursery schools that have mushroomed don't even figure in the BPE Act. 'We take an assurance from primary school administrations that they should install fire safety measures and obtain Building Use (BU) permission. But, a regular audit of safety features in buildings is not commonly done,' says district education officer PB Gadhvi. As for nursery schools, district primary education officer SP Chaudhry says, 'They were never considered part of primary education. So, provisions of BPE Act don't apply to them. The safety of their buildings needs to be looked into.'