Heart-rending scenes of the blaze that raged through the Kumbakonam school, charring 94 children from the primary section to death and leaving 18 others with burns, are still so fresh in public memory that the court verdict on the case, 10 years and a fortnight after the tragedy, evoked instant emotional reactions. That of the 21 persons chargesheeted, 11 were absolved raised doubts in some quarters if the case, the trial for which could begin only eight years after the gory incident, was presented properly before the Thanjavur Sessions Court.
Since it was perceived that the management’s avarice was a prime cause of the man-made catastrophe, the life term handed out to the school owner and five-year terms for the correspondent and headmistress gave rise to a feeling that justice has not been denied, albeit delayed. But letting many senior officials from the education department and the local municipality off the hook has not gone down well with many people in the state as the impression is that the cataclysm could have been avoided if the authorities had acted more responsibly.
Sentences of five years for four officials in the district education office and two years to a chartered engineer was just a minor consolation to the collective conscience, earlier disturbed by a callous official machinery in preventing the management from brazenly flouting norms. But the verdict should be a wake-up call to authorities of all departments. Anyone entrusted with the job of providing a safe and healthy environment in schools and colleges, particularly at a time when such institutions are mushrooming all over the country, should act with care. Periodic inspection should be carried out to check if managements are sensitive to safety issues and taking appropriate decisions on a daily basis to avert disasters. For society cannot afford to stand and watch another cataclysm like the one in Kumbakonam.