SPECIAL FEATURE







Fire: How safe are our schools
— A Tribune survey

As many as 90 children were burnt alive when fire engulfed Lord Krishna Higher Secondary School at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu on Saturday morning. The fire and the death of so many children for no fault of theirs sent shock-waves throughout the country.
During the last five days, The Tribune reporters in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh have visited dozens of schools to check whether they have taken any fire safety measures. The fourth report concerns schools in Haryana.

H.K. Dua, Editor-in-Chief



Saturday, July 24, 2004

The building of a new school in a residential area of Ambala city.Teachers ignorant about safety drill
Ambala, July 23
Fire safety does not seem to be high on the priority list of most schools. Most of the school teachers and students have no idea on what steps are to be taken if a fire breaks out. The lack of awareness of a fire safety drill can prove to be dangerous since it can lead to a stampede in case there is a fire.

The building of a new school in a residential area of Ambala city. — Photo by Neeraj Chopra

Schools in Panipat ignoring safety norms
Panipat, July 23
A visit to the various schools in the district revealed that there are a large number of private schools functioning in congested two or three rooms in residential areas. The strength of the students is 40 to 70 in each class. 

Despite Dabwali, no safety rules
Chandigarh, July 23
The Haryana Education Department has not framed any specific and separate rules for fighting fire in schools of the state, despite the infamous Dabwali tragedy.

700 govt schools without fire extinguishers
Karnal, July 23
Most of the government and private schools, barring a few in the Karnal district, do not have the minimum fire safety mechanism in place. The only consolation is that no school in the district has thatched roofs.

Education Officers to check schools
Sirsa, July 23
Shocked by the recent fire tragedy at a Kumbakonam school, the Haryana Government has finally woken up from its deep slumber. In a recent move, the State Education Department has issued a circular to the District Education Officers (DEOs) to check the fire safety and fighting measures in the schools.
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Friday, July 23, 2004

A view of the entrance of a school in BathindaSchools in slums lack proper exits
Muktsar, July 22
Most of the PSEB (Punjab School Education Board) affiliated or recognised schools in Bathinda and Muktsar districts do not have any firefighting equipment. On the contrary most of the CBSE affiliated schools were found armed with fire fighting equipments like fire extinguishers and water hydrants, but only some of their staff members know how to use them in emergency. The worse situation was found in schools that are running from residential premises in most of the slum areas of the districts.

A view of the entrance of a school in Bathinda.
— Tribune photo by Kulbir Beera

No fire safety equipment in any govt school
Mohali, July 22
Not a single school out of the thousands of government schools in Punjab has any fire safety equipment installed. Run by the Department of Education, these schools are affiliated to the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB).

DM to take action against defaulter
Bathinda, July 22
Mr K.A.P. Sinha, District Magistrate, today said that penal action would be taken against those school managements which had failed to install fire safety equipment in their respective schools and thus putting the lives of students to risk.

Mock fire exercises a rarity
Kapurthala, July 22
As MGN Public Senior Secondary School, Mall Road, opened this Monday after a month-long summer break, the school authorities planned a mock fire exercise for its students to prepare them for any untoward incident on the campus as it happened at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu on Saturday last.

No funds for fire fighting gadgets
Sangrur, July 22
Installation of fire fighting in the government schools is not on the priority list of the Punjab Government as no instructions have been issued by the government to the government schools in this regard so far.
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Thursday, July 22, 2004

The entry gate of Arya Girls Senior Secondary School opening into a narrow lane in Purana Bazar in Ludhiana.Most of Ludhiana schools
fire-prone
Ludhiana, July 21
Ludhiana has a number of government, private and aided schools, which are being run from dingy rooms and old multistoried buildings located in narrow streets of the old city with a single exit door. Although their location in the congested and crowded markets make them fire prone, no efforts have been done by the school authorities to install fire-fighting system.

The entry gate of Arya Girls Senior Secondary School opening into a narrow lane in Purana Bazar in Ludhiana. — Photo by Inderjit Verma

Army schools an exception
Gurdaspur July 21
With schools run by the army being an exception, about 2000 private and government schools in the district lack fire fighting system or other emergency services.

Schools not aware of fire safety norms
Patiala, July 21
Fire safety is something most of the schools in Patiala are not even aware of. Surprisingly even a few schools which are frequented by the upper crust do not follow fire safety norms. Schools in the inner city are highly unsafe as they are situated in two to three-storeyed buildings in narrow lanes with only a single door which serves as both an entrance and exit.

36 Amritsar schools declared unsafe
Amritsar, July 21
Thirty-six schools of Amritsar have been declared unsafe while 22 elementary schools are in a bad condition. Must of the schools in the walled city are located in the narrow lanes that make it almost impossible for fire tenders to reach the spot in the case of a fire.

Survey planned in Jalandhar
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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Govt, private schools lack fire fighting gadgets
Chandigarh/Panchkula/ Mohali, July 20
It often takes a tragedy to awaken to the flaws in the system. The fire in a school in Kumbakonam that claimed 90 lives led us to the schools in Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali.

Even where equipment exist, staff not trained
Chandigarh, July 20
We found that most of the government and private schools lacked fire fighting equipment. Ironically, those who had invested in installing equipment like fire extinguishers and water hydrants did not have trained staff to use them.

Safety norms are seldom checked
Panchkula, July 20
The township boasts of some of the best schools in the region in terms of infrastructure. However, most of the schools do not prescribe to fire safety measures. Though the public schools have installed fire extinguishers in the school, none of the government schools in the township have any provision for fire safety.

Fire drill: What is that?
School children wait for the bell to go inside a school in Shahi Majra, Mohali.Mohali, July 20
While no government school teacher in Mohali has even heard of a firefighting system in schools, private schools affiliated to the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) had some firefighting equipment installed during the affiliation process. Similarly, schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had fire safety equipment in place thanks to a mandatory affiliation norm.


School children wait for the bell to go inside a school in Shahi Majra, Mohali. 
— A Tribune photograph


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Teachers ignorant about safety drill
Rahul Das
Tribune News Service

Ambala, July 23
Fire safety does not seem to be high on the priority list of most schools. Most of the school teachers and students have no idea on what steps are to be taken if a fire breaks out. The lack of awareness of a fire safety drill can prove to be dangerous since it can lead to a stampede in case there is a fire.

The Principal of a private recognised school admitted that even though certain fire fighting equipment is available, training has been imparted to only a few staff members. “In the light of the Kumbakonam tragedy, I have decided that all the teachers will undergo training in handling fire safety equipment. Also, the teachers will teach the students to maintain discipline during any eventuality so that the building can be evacuated quickly,” she said.

The Deputy Commissioner of Ambala, Mr RP Gupta, said he had already written to the Education Department to undertake extensive checking of all schools for fire fighting capability. “The schools must meet the fire department specifications, including easy access to fire brigades, large gates and other necessary features,” he said.

Mr Gupta said the checking would be carried out in all schools, including unrecognised schools. “We will ensure that all protective measures are in place. I must stress that parents must look into the fire safety available at the school before giving admission to their wards,” he said.

Mr Ashwin Sareen, management member of DAV Public School (by the riverside), Ambala Cantt, claimed that their school had the best firefighting system in the district. “We have underground and overhead water tanks. There are two hose reel systems for each floor besides water sprinklers and fire extinguishers. It meets the stringent requirements of the building code,” he said.

Mrs Sudha Mathur, Principal of Lord Mahavir Jain Public School, said that their spacious class rooms have two doors besides a 10 ft wide verandah. “Fire extinguishers and alarm are at the laboratories. We have also kept sand bags,” she explained.

Government schools, particularly those in the villages, will be comparatively easier to evacuate. Most of the government schools have simplistic buildings which open into a large play ground. There is ample space and large gates in case the school building has to be evacuated. Also, in village schools, due to the ready availability of land, the rooms normally do not face each other. However, these government schools lack any fire fighting arrangement.

The District Education Officer, Mr Rajinder Pal Singh Pawar, said they had received a letter from the Education Directorate on fire safety measures. “We are going to instruct all the schools, under our purview, to maintain fire safety standards. There are about 200 government schools and about 100 recognised, aided schools in Ambala district,” he said.

A fire officer said not only was there need to generate awareness about the measures to be taken if a fire breaks out in a school, all the fire safety requirements must be adhered to by all the schools.

“Our major concern are the small unrecognised schools which operate from narrow lanes in which it becomes difficult to take out fire tenders. Also, some of the unrecognised schools have narrow passageways making access difficult. All the schools, irrespective of the fact whether they are recognised or unrecognised, need to have a proper fire fighting equipment,” he said.

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Schools in Panipat ignoring safety norms
Kiran Deep

Panipat, July 23
A visit to the various schools in the district revealed that there are a large number of private schools functioning in congested two or three rooms in residential areas. The strength of the students is 40 to 70 in each class. The school authorities appear to be least concerned about the infrastructure and are not bothered about fire safety norms. The District Education Department officials have not inspected these schools for past many years.

According to a senior functionary of the District Education Department there are 31 government senior secondary, 22 recognised private senior secondary schools, 60 government high schools 85 recognised private high schools, 47 government middle schools and 39 middle private schools in the district. Besides there are 247 government primary schools and eight private schools.

The Tribune team found that a large number of non-recognised schools were functioning in the district. 

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Despite Dabwali, no safety rules
Yoginder Gupta
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, July 23
The Haryana Education Department has not framed any specific and separate rules for fighting fire in schools of the state, despite the infamous Dabwali tragedy. On December 23, 1995, over 440 children and their parents perished in a devastating fire which broke out during the annual prize distribution function of DAV Public School at Dabwali in Sirsa district. About 145 persons were injured.

The state has framed elaborate rules for the grant of recognition and affiliation to private schools. The rule specify the size of the building as well as the play ground. However, about fire safety, the rules say that norms and regulations of the local civic body would have to be followed and observed.

After the Dabwali tragedy, the administration had taken elaborate measures for regular inspection of various buildings. Anyone organising a function under a "pandal" had to take no-objection certificate from the fire brigade.

The Financial Commissioner and Principal Secretary, Education, Mr M.L. Tayal, has convened a meeting next week to discuss the issue. Representatives of HUDA, the Urban Development Department and others concerned will participate in the meeting.

Mr Tayal says detailed guidelines on fire safety would be issued after the meeting.

He points out that the Tamil Nadu tragedy could have been averted if the school did not have a thatched-roof. Fortunately, he says, in Haryana there is no school which is run in a kutcha building. All schools in the state have pucca buildings. 

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700 govt schools without fire extinguishers
Kulwinder Sandhu
Tribune News Service

Karnal, July 23
Most of the government and private schools, barring a few in the Karnal district, do not have the minimum fire safety mechanism in place. The only consolation is that no school in the district has thatched roofs.

Of the 229 odd private schools only a few have fire extinguishers while none of the 700 government schools have fire extinguishers. There are 487 government primary schools, 7 aided primary schools, 213 government high/senior secondary schools, 222 private high/senior secondary schools and 11 aided high/senior secondary schools in the district.

A random survey of schools in Karnal district conducted by The Tribune revealed that the educational institutes do not follow the norms prescribed, particularly on the safety of pupils. Apart from running schools in dense localities, which at times pose difficulties to the fire service in reaching there in an emergency, the floor space, seating arrangements, ventilation, lighting facilities, aeration, the width of staircase and emergency escape routes, if any, leave a lot to be desired.

There are no mock drills with regard to fire safety in educational institutions. A number of schools in the old city of Karnal are located in dense localities in multi-storey buildings with few options of exit.

“None of the schools in Karnal are prepared for a fire,” says Mr Chander Bhan Yadav, Fire Officer of Karnal. He says the fire department has prepared a list of all the schools and other educational institutions of the district. Soon it will launch a campaign to ascertain whether they comply with the fire safety norms or not.

He says: “The report of those schools who do not comply with the fire safety norms will be forwarded to the local administration for stern action”. When asked whether the schools had obtained no objection certificates from the fire department, he said: “Many of the schools are in old buildings that were constructed when safety measures did not exist. The rules came in later and it is difficult to make the schools adhere to those rules.”

“The educational institutions need to have more safety precautions to prevent fires, with strict implementation. All primary classes, especially kindergarten sections, should be allowed only on the ground floor”, says Mr Shikhar Chand Jain, President of the Haryana-Aided Schools Management Association.

Dr Rajesh Sharma, a lecturer of English in the local DAV College, wonders how primary classes are being allowed to run on the first and second floors of a building and that too without safety measures such as a wide staircase and a fire escape staircase. 

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Education Officers to check schools
Vishal Joshi
Tribune News Service

Sirsa, July 23
Shocked by the recent fire tragedy at a Kumbakonam school, the Haryana Government has finally woken up from its deep slumber. In a recent move, the State Education Department has issued a circular to the District Education Officers (DEOs) to check the fire safety and fighting measures in the schools.

There are around 1000 schools in the district, including government, government-aided and private institutes, from the primary level up to the level of senior secondary. Talking to The Tribune, the Sirsa DEO, Mr D.D. Verma confirmed the move on fire safety initiated by the state authorities. “Only yesterday we received a letter from the head office with instructions to take up the issue of fire safety measures and also invited suggestion on the sensitive issue,” he says.

Sources in the district administration say that till date the practice of checking the safety measures was completely missing but now the authorities seemingly got up due to pressures from different quarters.

The most sensitive are the private schools with boarding facility, as they have limited space and inflammable materials including LPG cylinders in the kitchen, says the DEO. He has planned to call a meeting of the private schools and ask them to take up the issue on priority.

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Schools in slums lack proper exits
Dharmendra Joshi
Tribune News Service

Muktsar, July 22
Most of the PSEB (Punjab School Education Board) affiliated or recognised schools in Bathinda and Muktsar districts do not have any firefighting equipment. On the contrary most of the CBSE affiliated schools were found armed with fire fighting equipments like fire extinguishers and water hydrants, but only some of their staff members know how to use them in emergency.

The worse situation was found in schools that are running from residential premises in most of the slum areas of the districts. In Bathinda, such schools exist in Paras Ram Nagar, Gopal Nagar, Janata Nagar, Jogi Nagar, Lal Singh Basti and Partap Nagar.

What to talk of fire fighting equipment, there is no proper way that the students in these schools can be evacuated in case of any fire. These schools are running in congested rooms in narrow lanes. So much so, these schools have narrow staircases leading to the classrooms, and not more than two persons can pass at a time.

The Tribune team visited one of such school Ravindra Model School on Gurukul Road, Paras Ram Nagar, Bathinda but found no ‘model’ in this school. The alarming situation in the school can easily be judged from the fact that over 300 schools study in the double storeyed building, built on not more than a 10-marla plot of land. Only two exit points, including the main gate, were found in the school.

When contacted, the principal of the school Mr Sadhu Ram, told The Tribune that he was going to install fire-fighting equipment in the school shortly.

Similarly, The Tribune found no fire fighting equipment in Good Faith Public High School of the same locality. The principal of the School, Mr P.K. Mittal, said that the school had been recognised by the PSEB but admitted that no PSEB official had asked them to install any fire safety equipment at the time of providing recognition.

Schools running in spacious buildings also lack adequate fire fighting arrangements. The principals Mr Jarnail Singh and Ms Neelam Kakkar of Guru Teg Bahadur Senior Secondary School and Sanatam Dharam Senior School of Malout in Muktsar district told The Tribune that they had installed fire extinguisher for their chemistry laboratory. Both claimed that some science teachers knew how to operate them.

Similarly, The Tribune team found no fire extinguisher in Police Public School, Bathinda. However, the principal of the school, Mr Raj Kamal Devashwar said that the school was arranging them after the fire incident in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu.

Meanwhile, the District Education Officer (DEO) Muktsar, Mr S.K. Mehta, admitted that most of the schools affiliated with the PSEB did not have any fire fighting arrangements. He said that he had already issued a letter to all the schools to take proper fire safety measures for the safety of the students.
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No fire safety equipment in any govt school
Chitleen K Sethi
Tribune News Service

Mohali, July 22
Not a single school out of the thousands of government schools in Punjab has any fire safety equipment installed. Run by the Department of Education, these schools are affiliated to the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB). And while the Board has laid specific conditions regarding fire safety norms that have to be followed by all affiliated schools, government schools seem to have accountability towards none.

‘‘We have no jurisdiction over government schools. They are run and handled solely by the Education Department. We provide them with affiliation but our fire safety and other norms are meaningless since they are the government's own schools," pointed ours Mrs Veena Dada, in charge of affiliations, PSEB.

Admitting that none of the government schools across the state have any fire safety provisions, the Principal Secretary, School Education, Punjab, Mrs Tejinder Kaur, stated that the department would come up with a policy in this regard. ‘‘If fire safety equipment has to be installed in all government schools, a large amount of money will be required. For this other departments of the state have to be roped in. If we get fund for this, it should be just a matter of time before all schools have both fire fighting equipment and trained staff," she said.

Interestingly, however, the Department of Education in its set of regulations for private schools, demands that all schools have fire safety equipment installed. ‘‘Every school that has to apply for an affiliation from the Central Board of Secondary Education has to get a no-objection certificate (NoC) from the District Education Officer (DEO). Among the various conditions laid down by the DEO, adherence to fire safety norms is one,’’ pointed out Mr Rajan Sethi, owner of a set of private schools in Chandigarh and Mohali. So while the Punjab State Education Department is ensuring that fire safety equipment be installed in all CBSE schools across the state, its own schools have no such provisions.

‘‘The main reason for this is that for the past over 32 years there has been no fire related accident in any of the government schools. After the incident in South India we have all woken up to the precautions that need to be taken," said Mr Gyan Singh, Director, Public Instructions (Schools), Punjab. Mr S.S. Sekhon, the Chief Architect, Punjab, pointed out that government school building plans are made following all the requisite norms of the Fire Act. ‘‘Plans prepared by us are given to the Public Works Department which constructs the government school buildings. Other than strictly following the local area bylaws, we follow the norms laid down by the Fire Safety Acts. The size of the corridors, the classrooms, water tanks etc are built according to the size of the school.
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DM to take action against defaulter
Chander Parkash
Tribune News Service

Bathinda, July 22
Mr K.A.P. Sinha, District Magistrate, today said that penal action would be taken against those school managements which had failed to install fire safety equipment in their respective schools and thus putting the lives of students to risk.

Mr Sinha, while talking to The Tribune, said that though so far it could not be known how many schools in this district had not installed fire safety equipment, the Additional Deputy Commissioners and General Assistant had been asked to collect information in connection with the same.

He said that a meeting with the managements of private schools of the district would be held on Tuesday next and would be urged to equip their schools with fire safety equipment as per the norms laid down by the agency concerned if their school were lacking the same. He added that if it was found that any school management was not taking the necessary steps, penal action would be taken against the school. He pointed out that a comprehensive survey would be conducted in the district. He added that nothing would be left to chance. The District Education Officer (DEO) would also be put on this job.
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Mock fire exercises a rarity
Deepkamal Kaur
Tribune News Service

Kapurthala, July 22
As MGN Public Senior Secondary School, Mall Road, opened this Monday after a month-long summer break, the school authorities planned a mock fire exercise for its students to prepare them for any untoward incident on the campus as it happened at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu on Saturday last.

During the morning assembly, the principal of the school declared that such an exercise was being planned at the end of the day and that the students should follow the instructions that would be given to them over the microphone. A small log of wood was burnt in the centre of the building for demonstration. The smoke detectors installed in the building rang an alarm. The students were told to quickly come out of the building and gather near the school grounds. The whole exercise was successfully completed in less than three minutes.

The officers from the Fire Department who had been invited to attend the exercise demonstrated the use of the dry and wet fire extinguishers. They gave guidelines to the students to be followed in case of such a mishap. They even checked the entire fire extinguishing equipment and declared it fit for the next six months.

But unfortunately such arrangements and demonstrations are very unusual in the schools of the district. Most schools of the district do not even have a single fire extinguisher installed in their buildings. Others have one or two extinguishers that are not in working conditions at the moment. The authorities had purchased such systems long ago to fulfill the affiliation norms of the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB). As of today they are lying defunct, hung unused on the same wall for the past several years.
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No funds for fire fighting gadgets
Sushil Goyal
Tribune News Service

Sangrur, July 22
Installation of fire fighting in the government schools is not on the priority list of the Punjab Government as no instructions have been issued by the government to the government schools in this regard so far. Interestingly, on the other hand, if any school seeks affiliation or recognition from the state’s Education Department it has to reportedly submit fire safety and building safety certificates to the authorities.

When this reporter today contacted the office of the DEO (Secondary), Sangrur, an officer admitted there were no instructions from the government with regard to installation of fire fighting equipment in the schools. However, the school authorities were free to install such equipment but due to shortage of funds they were unable to install the same, he added.

Mr Jiwan Kumar Garg, Principal of Springdales Public Senior Secondary School, Sangrur, said they had four fire extinguishers but they were now lying in the store. However, he stated that they would now install five extinguishers each on the ground and first floor of the buildings. This school had a strength of about 1500 students, and the school building had four escape points each at the ground and first floor, he added.

Ms Raveen Pande, Principal, General Gurnam Singh Public School, said the school had no major fire fighting equipment. However, it had small fire extinguishers only in the science laboratory, library and principal’s room.
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87 school kids burnt to death in TN
Kumbakonam, July 16
At least 87 children were killed in a devastating fire in a school today in this small Tamil Nadu town, 400 km from Chennai, while 32 admitted to hospital with severe burn injuries.

TN tragedy toll 90; five held
Kumbakonam, July 17
While the death toll in Friday’s devastating fire at the local school here rose to 90, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi visited this small town in Tamil Nadu to express emotional support to the families of the victims.

Most schools in India have no fire safety measures. The Tamil Nadu school fire tragedy in which 90 children have been burnt alive illustrates gross failure on the part of society and the school authorities to ensure safety of children. We are publishing the following article by Pushpa Girimaji, who writes a regular column on consumer affairs — Editor-in-Chief

Time for all schools to wake up
T
here is dire need for schools to be safety conscious, particularly because the lives of young children are involved. The Kumbakonam school tragedy on Friday is a classic example of what such lack of safety consciousness can do.

Nation page:
Rs 1-cr package for fire victims’ kin
Kumbakonam, July 18
Congress President Sonia Gandhi today announced a package of Rs 1 crore from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund for the families of the victims of the Friday’s fire mishap in which 90 schoolchildren died and several others were injured. 

Editorials: Children aren’t for burning
Teachers’ betrayalTop

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