Nearly 14 years after one of the worst fire tragedies in the country claimed 446 lives and left over 200 others with burn injuries in Haryana’s Dabwali town, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Monday awarded a compensation of Rs.11.24 crore to the victims’ kins.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Tirath Singh Thakur and Kanwaljit Singh Ahluwalia Monday held the DAV managing committee, DAV Centenary Public School and the management of the Rajiv Marriage Palace liable for the deaths and injuries of scores of students and parents, and directed them to pay 55 per cent of the total compensation awarded.
The Haryana government and two agencies under it have been directed to share and pay 45 per cent of the compensation awarded.
As many as 446 persons, the majority of them children and women, were burnt alive at the Rajiv Marriage Palace in Dabwali town on the Haryana-Punjab border, 350 km from here, Dec 23, 1995, during a school function of the local DAV Centenary Public School there.
The tent of the illegal marriage palace – which flouted all fire safety norms – had caught fire and collapsed on over 1,000 people.
The tragedy left 20 children disabled for life and 200 others with burn injuries.
The highest compensation awarded by the court in certain individual cases of unmarried girls was Rs.33.5 lakh while in case of unmarried boys it was Rs.32.5 lakh.
The amounts will have to be deposited by respective parties within four months from Nov 9 with 6 per cent interest from the date of the claim made by the victims.
The high court, agreeing with the findings of a one-man commission of inquiry into the fire tragedy, held the then Sirsa deputy commissioner, M.P. Bildan, responsible for dereliction of duty.
Bildan, an IAS officer who was chief guest at the function where the tragedy happened, was charged with escaping from the spot to a secure police station, 28 km away, instead of leading rescue and relief operations.
Retired Allahabad High Court judge T.P. Garg headed the one-man commission into one of the biggest school tragedies in the country. The 370-page report had come after many extensions to the commission.
Power cuts and staff shortage at the commission office in Hisar, 300 km from here, were put up as reasons for delay in submitting its report.
The school authorities, the DAV Managing Committee and even the marriage palace owner had contended that they were not liable for the tragedy and for paying compensation to the victims. Their objections and contentions were overruled by the high court.