The Madras High Court on Thursday suspended a lower court’s conviction and sentences to seven individuals in the 2004 Kumbakonam fire tragedy which killed 94 children of Sri Krishna Matriculation School, PTI reported. The court also modified the sentence awarded to two others.
The Madras High Court bench set aside the conviction and sentence against school principal Santhana Lakshmi, noon meal organiser Gajalaskhmi, engineer Jayachandran, District Educational Officer R Balaji, Personal Assistant Sivaprakasam, supervisor Dhandavan and an assistant, Durairaj. It also modified school founder Pulavar Palanisamy’s life sentence to time already served in prison, and the amount of fine to Rs 1,16,500. Vasanthi, the cook, who had been awarded a five-year sentence by the Madurai trial court, had it reduced to time served in prison.
The court also abated the five-year sentence and conviction of the founder’s wife Saraswathi, since she has passed away. The bench also reserved its order on appeals by the accused, and the Tamil Nadu government’s appeal against acquittals in the case.
A total of 21 accused had been charged in the case. On June 30, 2014, a lower court in Madurai had acquitted 11 of them and convicted and sentenced the other 10, including Palanisamy, to life imprisonment.
“The court took 10 years to arrest the 10 accused and now, in three years, they are releasing them,” K Inbaraj, who lost two of his children in the fire, told The News Minute. “What justice is this? It hurts our feelings. We want the Tamil Nadu government to take this case further to Supreme Court. We will keep fighting till we get justice.”
Ninety-four children and a teacher were burnt to death and 16 others seriously injured when a fire engulfed Sri Krishna School and Saraswathi Nursery School complex in Kumbakonam on July 16, 2004, around 10 am. A mid-day meal was being prepared in the school kitchen, which had a thatched roof. A spark from burning firewood fell on the roof and it caught fire. The fire spread to the thatched roof of the classroom where several children were studying, The Hindu reported.
Firefighters and rescue workers who rushed to the school were hampered because the three-story school had only one entrance and a single flight of stairs. Firefighters had to break down the concrete structure of the building to get in, but by the time they did so, many students had been charred to death.