Chandigarh: Four children were killed after a school bus with 12 students onboard caught fire at Longowal town in Sangrur district in Punjab on Saturday, the police said.
While eight children were taken out safely by people working in nearby fields, four, including a three-year-old girl, were charred to death, they added. The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained.
Those children killed were in the age group of 10-12 and were returning home from school. The driver tried to open the doors of the bus after it caught fire but failed, police said.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident and also promised strict punishment for the guilty.
Very sad to learn of the news from Sangrur, where we lost 4 children because their school van caught fire. Injured have been rushed to the hospital. DC & SSP Sangrur are on the spot & I have ordered a magisterial enquiry. Guilty will be strictly punished.— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) February 15, 2020
Sangrur Deputy Commissioner Ghanshyam Thori, who visited the spot, told media that police had registered a case under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against the school principal, its management and the owner and driver of the van.
"Preliminary inquiry indicates that the van was in condemned condition and was being run illegally as per the report of District Transport Officer (DTO). If the DTO or any official of his office is found guilty, he will be chargesheeted," he said.
Thori said the school situated at Longowal village was recently shifted to a new building on the outskirts of the village.
"The school has a temporary affiliation with the Punjab School Education Board, while the van being used was condemned and without relevant documentation," he said.
Sangrur Civil Hospital's senior surgeon, Dr Raj Kumar, said no child was admitted to the government hospitals in the district.
"The children who survived were taken away by their families from the spot," he said.
Police sources said the van was of 1990's model fitted with an LPG kit and was unfit to run on the road. The driver of the van fled the spot after the van caught fire, they said.
Punjab Education Minister Vijay Inder Singla, who is also Sangrur MLA, said the private 'Simran Public School' had purchased the "very old van" on Friday. He announced an ex-gratia of Rs five lakh each to the families of the victims.
Sangrur MP and AAP leader Bhagwant Mann, who visited the spot, said the van was put to use by the school for the first day on Saturday. He demanded a murder case be registered against school officials and the owner of the van.
Mann said the victims included around a three-year-old girl, who went to the school for the first time. He said among the dead, two were from the same family.
Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) condemned the incident and expressed condolences for the victim's families.
"I strongly condemn the usage of LPG-powered school van that has caused this havoc. Strict action needed against the school and the civil administration," Punjab AAP chief Harpal Singh Cheema wrote on his twitter handle.
(With inputs from agencies)