Chennai, Jul 30: A Thanjavur court on Wednesday held 10 people guilty and acquitted 11 others in the Kumbakonam school fire accident in Tamil Nadu that killed 94 children and left 18 injured in 2004. The judgment comes a decade after the accident at the Sri Krishna Middle School July 16, 2004.
Members of the school management are among those convicted. Reacting to the judgment, a parent told a news channel: “We have been waiting for the verdict for the past 10 years. We had expected punishment for all the 21 accused.” The fire broke out in the school’s thatched noon meal centre at the first floor. There were around 200 students in the classrooms when they caught fire.
Some other schools also functioned from the same premises, like the Sri Krishna Aided Private School, Saraswathi Nursery and Primary School, and the Sri Krishna Girls High School. The school building had inadequate exit routes for the children to escape and the gates were locked when the accident happened. The burning thatch and the bamboo poles fell, blocking the exit routes.
The fire raged for an hour and killed 94 children. Though the accident shook the nation and cases were lodged against officials of the school management and the state government, the case moved from one court to another for years. The case started to gather pace when charges were framed against 21 accused in 2012 and trial began soon after that. The voluminous charge sheet in the case has around 4,000 pages.
The accused included Palanisamy, designated school correspondent, his wife Saraswathi, daughter Santhanalakshmi, the then municipal commissioner Sathyamurthy, the then town planning officer K. Murugan, three school teachers and officials of the state education department. The headmaster of Sri Krishna Girls High School Prabhakaran turned approver.
Later, charges against C. Palanisamy, then chief educational officer at Thanjavur, S.Paramasivam, then tehsildar of Kumbakonam, and A. Kannan, then director of elementary education, were dropped. Around 230 prosecution witnesses were examined.
The Tamil Nadu government has constructed a memorial park in Kumbakonam in memory of the 94 children who lost their lives. Even today, there is a big banner, sporting small pictures of the children who lost their lives, outside the now defunct school at Kasiraman Street in Kumbakonam.