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For school fire in which 94 children died, Life term for principal, 10 years’ jail for school owner

The founder of a private school where 94 children were burnt alive in 2004 has been sentenced today to life in prison by a court in Tamil Nadu.

The court found 10 people, including the headmistress, guilty of charges ranging from criminal conspiracy to culpable homicide. Among them are several education officials and the cook of the school in Kumbakonam in the Thanjavur district. 11 others, including three teachers, were acquitted today, enraging relatives of the children who died, all of whom were younger than nine.

Madhumitha, who experienced the horror of India’s worst school fire first-hand, was in Class Five at the time. Her younger sister was not able to escape the flames that ripped through the school.

“Had they looked at the students as their own children, they would have saved them. They were selfish and escaped,” she said about the teachers who were acquitted.

In July 2004, the fire started in the thatched-roofed school’s kitchen where lunch was being prepared before spreading quickly to other rooms and floors. Many of the children killed were trapped in a large classroom which had only one exit. They died after the blazing roof collapsed on top of them.

The investigation that followed found that basic fire safety rules had been ignored. There were no fire extinguishers, for example.

Angry parents and firefighters at the time accused teachers of deserting the children in a rush to save their own lives.

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