B.S. Ramesh

BANGALORE: Is the State Government serious enough about safety measures in schools? An affidavit filed recently by the State before the Supreme Court says the Government had initiated several measures, including training in fire fighting for teachers, to ensure that educational institutions were well equipped to handle any major disaster. Here’s what the affidavit says: A proposal for fire fighting training to at least one physical education teacher in each school in the State, a lesson on fire fighting in the syllabus, and a move to treat negligence in fire safety as a cognisable offence under the Fire Force Act.

The State also wants a syllabus revision for eighth standard students to include a lesson on measures to extinguish fires. Cooks for midday meals are drilled in fire safety measures by distributing manuals on the usage of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cylinders and emergency steps in the wake of a cylinder blast.

These and many other measures are enumerated in detail in the affidavit, filed after a public interest litigation (PIL) petition by Avinash Mehrotra on safety measures initiated by State Governments in schools and educational institutions. This was in the light of the Kumbakonam fire tragedy which killed several schoolchildren.

The Government has fixed the responsibility to tackle fire accidents in schools on all educational officers — deputy director of public instruction, block development officer, assistant director of public instruction, municipal officials, school development management committees and gram panchayat officials.

There is also a proposal to constitute district-level committees comprising the deputy commissioner, the chief executive officer of the zilla panchayat, engineers of the public works department and the deputy director of public instruction as members. This committee will supervise fire safety measures.

To minimise fire accidents, schools are asked to ensure that no inflammable materials are kept near the place of cooking and that food is not cooked in the classrooms. Government officials will visit all the schools, hostels and even anganwadi centres to ensure compliance.

The affidavit says schools are expected to upgrade old buildings and comply with fire safety regulations under the Sarva Sikshana Abhiyana and mid-day meals schemes. With 26 per cent of the State budget going for education, the affidavit says, Karnataka stood first among States in providing primary education to students. There are 53,461 primary schools with a student intake of 58,13,661.