Policy Matters

Supreme Court orders fire safety measures in Indian schools

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In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered installation of fire-extinguishing equipment and adoption of other safety measures in all government and private schools across the country within six months to avoid recurrence of incidents like the July 2004 school fire in Tamil Nadu that killed 93 children. A bench of Justices Daveer Bhandari and Lokeshwar Singh Panta ordered various safety measures against fire and stps to meet other security concerns of the schoolchildren on a public interest lawsuit, demanding enforcement of children's fundamental right to education in a safe and secure environment. The petition had been filed in 2004 in the wake of one of the worst tragedies involving schoolchildren in Kumbakonam town of Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur district, where 93 students from lower kindergarten to standard five were trapped and perished in a fire that engulfed Sri Krishna Aided Higher Secondary School. The fire in the girls' elementary school had originated in the kitchen and spread rapidly setting ablaze the thatched roofs of the school and engulfing the classrooms.

Ordering installation of various safety measures in all schools across the country, the apex court asked education secretaries of all states to file their compliance report of its order within one month after installing the safety measures. The apex court also ordered all government and private schools to strictly comply with various safety measures prescribed by the National Building Code of India in 2005 and asked the governments of various state and union territories not to recognize the schools not complying with safety measures. 'Before granting recognition or affiliation, the concerned state governments 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,' said the bench. 'All existing government and private schools shall install fire extinguishing equipments within a period of six months,' said the bench, also ordering 'necessary training to the staff and other school officials in using the fire extinguishing equipment.' It ordered that 'the school buildings be kept free from inflammable and toxic material. If storage is inevitable, they should be stored safely.' Ordering 'periodic evaluation of structural aspect of the school”, the bench also asked “concerned engineers and officials to strictly follow the National Building Code and issue safety certificates only after proper inspection.' 'Dereliction in duty must attract immediate disciplinary action against the concerned officials,' it warned.

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