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Kumbakonam Tragedy: All Convicts in School Fire That Killed 94 Children to Walk Free

"If there is a case involving biggies, somehow they use force to win. How will the children's souls rest in peace?" asked a man whose child had died in the 2004 school fire.

Updated:August 11, 2017, 6:59 PM IST
Kumbakonam Tragedy: All Convicts in School Fire That Killed 94 Children to Walk Free
File photo of the Madras High Court.
Chennai: The Madras High Court on Thursday set aside the conviction of seven accused and reduced the sentences of two others in the 2004 Kumbakonam fire tragedy that killed 94 school children, thus ensuring that all those convicted by the trial court will now walk free.

The division bench, comprising Justices M Sathyanarayanan and V M Velumani, ordered the release of the founder of Sri Krishna Matriculation School, Pulavar Palanisamy, as it reduced his life sentence to one of time already served during investigation and post-conviction. The HC also reduced the penalty on him from Rs 51.65 lakh to Rs 1.16 lakh. It also reduced the five-year sentence of the cook R. Vasanthi.

A total of 21 accused had been charged under various sections of IPC in the incident. On July 30, 2014, the trial court had acquitted 11 of them and convicted and sentenced the other 10, including Pulavar Palanisamy, to life imprisonment and his wife Saraswathi to five years. As Sarawathi passed away during the period of appeal, the bench abated the charges against her.

The bench also set aside the conviction and sentence passed by the lower court in the case of school principal Santhana Lakshmi, noon meal organiser Gajalakshmi, engineer Jayachandran, District Educational Officer R Balaji, Personal Assistant Sivaprakasam, supervisor Dhandavan and one Durairaj, an assistant. It directed that the bail bonds executed by the accused shall stand terminated.

The HC order has come as a shock for the families of the kids. Ninety four children and a teacher were charred to death and 16 others seriously injured when a devastating fire swept through the Sri Krishna School and Saraswathi Nursery School complex on July 16, 2004.

Inbaraj, a parent of a student who died in the fire, said, “This is a major shock for us. The accused weren’t even imprisoned for 2 years. For secure school structures to come into effect, these 94 children sacrificed their lives. Till date, the government has neglected us. If there is a case involving biggies, somehow they use force to win.”

“If such incidents occur, how will the children's souls rest in peace? We are compelling the government to do something and if not, we will take serious action,” he said.

Families of the victims are also disappointed over the HC’s lack of any word on the compensation amount. “We have been waiting for 13 years. The High Court directed to settle our compensation within a three week period, which gets over today. We are yet to receive compensation of Rs 2 lakh. The school authorities are the main culprits. We don't know why they were let free. Necessary action has not been taken,” said Mariammal, another victim’s parent.

Speaking to News18, the victim association’s lawyer, Tamilarasan, said he is waiting for a copy of the order to get more clarity and to see if this order can be challenged.

“The Madras High Court order confirmed the lower court's judgment in the case. Pulavar Palanisamy is responsible for the commercialisation of education and due to his negligence, he is considered to be the main culprit," he said.

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