A decade after the Kumbakonam school fire case was reported, the Principal District and Sessions Court convicted 10 accused including the school founder and four education department officials while acquitting the remaining 11 others from the case on Wednesday.
The main accused ‘Pulavar’ R. Palanisamy (85) – the founder of the Sri Krishna Middle School where the fire broke out claiming the lives of 94 children – was awarded life sentence by the Court which imposed fine amount of Rs. 51.65 lakh on him.
He was sentenced to undergo life imprisonment under IPC sections 467 (forgery of valuable security, will) read with 197 (issuing or signing false certificate) and 10 years rigorous imprisonment under IPC section 304(2) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) under 94 counts.
Pronouncing the verdict in a packed court room, the Principal District and Sessions Judge Mohamed Ali handed out five year rigorous imprisonment each to Palanisamy’s wife Sarasawathy (81), also the correspondent of the school, his adopted daughter and headmistress J. Santhalakshmi (52), R. Vijayalakshmi, the noon meal organiser, R. Vasanthi – the cook, the then District Elementary Education Officer (DEEO) R. Balaji, then Assistant in DEEO’s office S. Sivaprakasam, then Superintendent in DEEO office T. Thandavan and then Personal Assistant to DEEO G. Durairaj.
The Judge sentenced another accused B. Jeyachandran, a chartered engineer, to undergo two year imprisonment and imposed fine of Rs. 50,000 on him.
All the 10 accused pleaded innocence when their submissions were sought by the Judge after he found them guilty.
The judgement was delivered after a protracted legal battle with the case having moved from court to another earlier.
The Court directed that out of the total fine amount of Rs. 52.57 lakh, an sum of Rs. 50,000 should be given as compensation to each parent of the 94 children who perished in the fire.
A sum of Rs. 25,000 should be given as compensation to each of the 15 children who sustained grievous injuries and Rs. 10,000 each to three other students who sustained simple injuries.
All the 21 accused were present in the court hall outside which a heavy posse of police personnel was deployed.
Families of the victims and the student survivors made it on the day of the judgement with hope and expectations.
Among those acquitted were the then DEEO B. Palanisamy, then District Education Officer R. Narayanasamy, then Assistant Elementary Education Officer (AEEO) J. Radhakrishnan, then Additional Assistant Elementary Education Officer (AAEEO) K. Balakrishnan, then AAEEO G. Madhavan, then AEEO (Nursery) V. Balasubramanian, three teachers of the Sri Krishna Aided Primary School – P. Devi, R. Mahalakshmi and T. Anthoniammal, then Kumbakonam Municipal Commissioner R. Sathiyamoorthy and then Town Planning Officer K. Murugan.