SAFETY MEASURES IN SCHOOLS-TRY GOVT OFFICIALS FOR CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE

Ravi Kant , Advocate Supreme Court of India

Just a few days ago five school girls died in a stampede in a Government school in Delhi. The reason may be a matter of discussion and investigation but it is very important that the basic minimum standards for safety need to be ensured in all schools across the country.

It is the administration which has the responsibility to keep a check on such schools which don’t adhere to the basic safety measures. All private schools need to be checked and those schools should be forced to ensure such standards. It is a national shame when young helpless children die due to the negligence of the school. It is a tragedy for the family and a shame for the administration.

In the present case the exit for the school was single and constricted.
The Supreme Court in May 2009 had given orders that the chief secretary should comply with all the guidelines laid down by the national building code of India in a span of one month of the order and ensure these standards. It is a fact that governments don’t care of such orders. If those guidelines had been ensured and complied with might be those children should have been alive today.

The Supreme Court bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Lokeshwar Panta had said in the case related to the Kumbakonam Fire tragedy Avinash Mehrotra Vs Union of India (Writ Petition 483 of 2004)

35. In view of what has happened in Lord Krishna Middle School in District Kumbakonam and other incidents which have been enumerated in the preceding paragraphs, it has become imperative that each school must follow the bare minimum safety standards, in addition to the compliance of the National Building Code of India, 2005, in particular Part IV ¬ Fire & Life Safety and the Code of Practice of Fire Safety in Educational Institutions (IS 14435:1997) of the Bureau of Indian Standards. The said safety standards are enumerated here in below:

3.1 FIRE SAFETY MEASURES IN SCHOOLS:

i. Provision of adequate capacity and numbers of fire extinguishers of ISI marks to be provided in eye-catching spots in each block of the school.

ii. First Aid kits and necessary medicines should be readily available in the school.

iii. Provision of water tank and separate piping from the tank with hose reel to the ground floor and first floor.

iv. Fire fighting training to all teachers and students from X to XII standards.

v. Fire Task Force in every school comprising of Head of the institution, two teachers / staff members and one member from the Fire and Rescue Department should be constituted. The Fire & Rescue Department member shall monitor and make fire safety plan and conduct inspections once in every three months.

vi. Display of emergency telephone numbers and list of persons to be contacted on the notice board and other prominent places.

vii. Mock drills to be conducted regularly. Fire alarm to be provided in each floor and for rural schools separate long bell arrangement in case of emergency.

viii. All old electrical wiring and equipment shall be replaced with ISI mark equipments and routine maintenance conducted by the School Management in consultation with the Fire and Rescue Department.

ix. No High Tension lines should run inside or in close proximity to the school. Steps must be taken to shift them if they are already there.

x. The Fire and Rescue Department shall frame guidelines with “DOS and DON’Ts’ for schools and issue a fitness certificate, which shall be renewed periodically.

3.2 TRAINING OF SCHOOL TEACHERS & OTHER STAFF:

i. The teachers along with other staff shall be trained to handle safety equipment, initiate emergency evacuations and protect their students in the event of fire and other emergencies by the Fire and Rescue Department.

ii. They shall also be trained in providing emergency first-aid treatment.

iii) There shall be a School Safety Advisory Committee and an Emergency Response Plan drafted by the Committee in approval and consultation with the concerned Fire & Rescue Department.

iv) Emergency Response Drills conducted at regular intervals to train the students as well as the school staff.

v) All schools to observe Fire Safety Day on 14th of April every year with awareness programs and fire safety drills in collaboration with the Fire and Rescue Department.

3.3 SCHOOL BUILDING SPECIFICATIONS:

i. The school buildings shall preferably be a `A’ Class construction with brick / stone masonry walls with RCC roofing. Where it is not possible to provide RCC roofing only non- combustible fireproof heat resistance materials should be used.

ii. The nursery and elementary schools should be housed in single storied buildings and the maximum number of floors in school buildings shall be restricted to three including the ground floor.

iii. The School building shall be free from inflammable and toxic materials, which if necessary, should be stored away from the school building.

iv. The staircases, which act as exits or escape routes, shall adhere to provisions specified in the National Building Code of India 2005 to ensure quick evacuation of children.

v. The orientation of the buildings shall be in such a way that proper air circulation and lighting is available with open space all round the building as far as possible.

vi. Existing school buildings shall be provided with additional doors in the main entrances as well as the class rooms if required. The size of the main exit and classroom doors shall be enlarged if found inadequate.

vii. School buildings have to be insured against fire and natural calamities with Group Insurance of school pupils.

viii. Kitchen and other activities involving use of fire shall be carried out in a secure and safe location away from the main school building.

ix. All schools shall have water storage tanks.

3.4 CLEARANCES & CERTIFICATES:

i. Every School shall have a mandatory fire safety inspection by the Fire and Rescue Services Department followed by issuance of a `no objection certificate’ to the School as a mandatory requirement for granting permission for establishing or continuation of a School.

i. An Inspection Team consisting of experts like a Civil Engineer, a Health Officer, a Revenue Officer, a Psychologist, a Fire Officer, a local body officer and a development officer besides the educational authorities shall carry inspection and assessment of infrastructural facilities before the commencement of each academic year. The Team shall submit its Inspection Report to the concerned district Chief Educational Officer.

iii. The building plans for schools shall be prepared only by a Government certified engineer and the PWD Executive Engineer concerned should inspect the building and award a structural stability certificate. Stability Certificates shall be issued by the State or Central Government Engineers only and shall be mandatory for granting permission for establishing or continuation of a School.

iv. In every district, one Recognition Committee headed by a retired judge shall be constituted. Officials from Revenue Department, Public Works Department, Fire Service, Electricity Board, Health and Education Department, a reputed NGO shall be members. They shall visit the schools periodically or at least the erring institutions as listed by the Chief Education Officer.

v. Conditional recognition / approval shall never by resorted to for any school.

36. In this petition, we need not take any action contrary to government policy to fulfill the Constitution’s mandate. Union and State officials have already filed wide-ranging plans to improve school safety. Along with the National Building Code, a combination of the better parts of these plans would bring the nation’s schools to an adequate level of safety. States have also expressed enthusiasm for reform and some have asked this Court expressly for direction.

37. Many States have already begun implementation. The most forward thinking States have enacted and enforced the National Building Code in their schools. Often these States have also created, empowered and funded a state-wide emergency response office. The coordinated efforts and concentration of knowledge in these administrative units make States better able to prepare for emergencies, as much as to respond once the problem has started. For example, the State of Gujarat has established such an emergency management office. Having already settled building codes and other large issues, the State can focus on other aspects of emergency management. With the assistance of outside experts, Gujarat recently created a colouring book to teach children how to respond to emergencies. On a smaller scale, but no less vital, in the Union Territory of Pondicherry, administrators replaced all thatched roofs and allocated an additional Rs.500 lakhs to build pucca classrooms. Some States have counted their schools and know which require repairs; they provided these details in their affidavits along with detailed plans for improvement. We are encouraged by the agreement shared among States that safety must improve. Our order should provide additional stimulus for the general aims of the States’ already agreed policy.

38. In the end, we should need to do little but enforce existing laws and encourage States in their own well-intentioned safety programmes. However, in the years since the fire at the Lord Krishna Middle School, some States have moved slowly and safety standards have varied in quality across States. These delays and variations have subjected millions more school children to danger from fire, earthquakes and other causes, when simple enhancements could offer much greater protection. Articles 21 and 21-A of the Constitution require that India’s school children receive education in safe schools. In order to give effect to the provisions of the Constitution, we must ensure that India’s schools adhere to basic safety standards without further delay.

39. It is the fundamental right of each and every child to receive education free from fear of security and safety. The children cannot be compelled to receive education from an unsound and unsafe building.

40. In view of what happened in Lord Krishna Middle School in District Kumbakonam where 93 children were burnt alive and several similar incidences had happened in the past, therefore, it has become imperative to direct that safety measures as prescribed by the National Building Code of India, 2005 be implemented by all government and private schools functioning in our country.

We direct that:-

(i) 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.

(ii) All existing government and private schools shall install fire extinguishing equipments within a period of six months.

(iii) The school buildings be kept free from inflammable and toxic material. If storage is inevitable, they should be stored safely.

(iv) Evaluation of structural aspect of the school may be carried out periodically. We direct that the concerned engineers and officials must strictly follow the National Building Code. The safety certificate be issued only after proper inspection. Dereliction in duty must attract immediate disciplinary action against the concerned officials.

(v) Necessary training be imparted to the staff and other officials of the school to use the fire extinguishing equipments.

41. The Education Secretaries of each State and Union Territories are directed to file an affidavit of compliance of this order within one month after installation of fire extinguishing equipments.

42. List this petition on 07.12.2009 to ensure compliance of this order.

In light of the above orders of the Court in which almost four months have gone by the Govt of NCT of Delhi did not care to implement the orders of the court and therefore a case of criminal negligence is made out against the Education Secretary and Chief Secretary. Until and unless such senior officials are not brought to book such tragedies will continue to happen. The Govt of NCT of Delhi should not be let off by paying simple ex gratia payment but they should be held accountable for criminal negligence and the Govt should pay a heavy compensation to the parents as it is the administration which is responsible for such an accident.

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