Fire in school van kills 4 kids

Was ‘condemned’ vehicle | Capt orders probe | Case filed

Parvesh Sharma

Tribune News Service

Sangrur, February 15

A ramshackle ‘condemned’ mini school van carrying 12 students of local Simran Public School, Longowal, caught fire on the town’s outskirts this afternoon, killing four children and injuring eight. Reportedly purchased from a junk dealer, it was on road for the first time today. Senior officers said a mechanical fault may have caused the fire.

Witnesses said the van driver was alerted by a man riding a tractor, who noticed the flames. Amandeep Kaur,12, threw out seven kids and then jumped from the vehicle herself. “Later, windows got jammed. Residents from nearby villages tried to pull out the remaining children but they were charred to death,” said a shaken Satinder Singh, one of the eyewitnesses.

The deceased have been identified as Simranjit Singh (5) and his cousins Kamalpreet Kaur (5) and Navjot Kaur (almost 5), and Aradhya (5). “It was Navjot’s first day. She told her father Jagsir Singh that she was excited to accompany her cousins to school,” said Balwinder Singh, a relative.

The injured are Amandeep Kaur (13), Anmolpreet Kaur (5), Manvir Singh (5), Sehajpreet Kaur (5), Satgur Singh (5), Priya ( 5), Arshdeep Kaur (5) and Karanvir Singh (5). A visit to the school revealed that it neither had requisite classrooms nor adequate arrangements for transportation.

The incident occurred at 2 pm, but the bodies lay inside the van till 7.30 pm with villagers refusing postmortem until their demands were met. These included Rs 50 lakh compensation to the kin of those killed, Rs 20 lakh to families of injured students, the arrest of school management members and action against officers of the education and transport departments for allowing the school to run despite the poor infrastructure and for the ‘condemned’ school vehicle.

“The CM has ordered a magisterial inquiry. We will probe if transport or education officials are involved. An FIR has been lodged against the school management. Owner Lakhwinder Singh and driver Dalbir Singh have been arrested,” said Sangrur DC Ghanshyam Thori.

Punjab minister Vijay Inder Singh, Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, Sunam Congress halqa in-charge Daman Thind Bajwa and others reached the spot. The Opposition blamed the Punjab Government for “lapses”. Singla said the families of those killed would get Rs 7.5 lakh.

One sister skipped school, other died

Sangrur: Satpal Kumar lost his younger daughter Aradhya in the tragedy. He said his two daughters studied in the same school but the elder one stayed back home due to ill-health. “Aradhya insisted her sister Anshikha accompanied her, but she was unwell and did not go,” recalled Satpal.

School authorities flee, locking the gate

Sangrur: As the van caught fire near the school, the school authorities fled, putting a lock on the gate. District officials had a hard time identifying the bodies, relying on the kids rescued. It was only after the parents arrived that the victims were identified, the DC said.

3 from one family

  • 3 deaths from one family; was little Navjot’s first day in school
  • Mini van purchased reportedly from junk dealer developed fault
  • Case under Section 304 filed against school owner, van driver

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