Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu: Over a decade after a devastating fire charred to death 94 school children, a local court on Wednesday convicted 10 persons and acquitted 11 others in the ghastly school fire tragedy in Kumbakonam.
Principal District and Sessions Judge Mohammed Ali delivered the verdict in the packed court hall amid tight security as parents and relatives of the deceased children assembled outside the court.
Of the convicted, five persons were held guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and criminal negligence.
Those found guilty included Palanisamy, owner and founder of the school; his wife and correspondent Saraswathi; headmistress Santhalakshmi; noon meal organizer Vijayalakshmi; and cook Vasanthi.
Palaniswamy was sentenced to life in prison while the others were sentenced to jail terms between one year and five years.
On July 16, 2004, a fire broke out from the makeshift noon meal kitchen and spread to a thatched roof hut on the first floor, killing 94 children and causing burns to 18 others.
The heart-wrenching incident occurred in Sri Krishna Aided Private School, Saraswathi Nursery and Primary School, and Sri Krishna Girls High School, located on Kasiraman Street in a narrow building.
The school building had inadequate exit routes for the children to escape and the gates were locked when the accident happened. The burning thatch and the bamboo poles fell, blocking the exit routes.
Though the accident shook the nation and cases were lodged against officials of the school management and the state government, the case moved from one court to another for years.
The case started to gather pace when charges were framed against 21 accused in 2012 and trial began soon after that. The voluminous charge sheet in the case has around 4,000 pages.
The Tamil Nadu government has constructed a memorial park in Kumbakonam in memory of the 94 children who lost their lives. Even today, there is a big banner, sporting small pictures of the children who lost their lives, outside the now defunct school.