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Avinash Mehrotra Versus Union of India and Others

2009 (4) TMI 996 - SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.483 OF 2004 - Dated:- 13-4-2009 - Dalveer Bhandari and Lokeshwar Singh Panta, JJ. For Petitioner : Mr. Prashant Kumar, Adv., For Respondent : Mr. Mukesh K. Giri, Adv., Mr. Gopal Singh, Adv., Mr. Ansar Ahmad Chaudhary, Adv., Mr. Rajesh Srivastava, Adv., Mr. Ramesh Babu M.R., Adv., Mr. Tara Chandra Sharma, Adv., M/s Corporate Law Group (N.P.) Mr. Ravi Prakash Mehrotra, Adv., Mr. Naresh K. Sharma, Adv., M/s Arputham, Aruna & Co. (N.P.) Mrs. Anil Katiyar, Adv., Mr. Abhij .....

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he Lord Krishna Middle School in District Kumbakonam in the city of Madras, Tamil Nadu. The fire started in the school s kitchen while cooks were preparing mid-day meal. In order to protect the rights of life and education guaranteed to all school going children under Articles 21 and 21-A, the petitioner has prayed this Court to bring about safer school conditions. 2. It is alleged that Lord Krishna Middle School is one of the thousands of private schools that have sprung up in response to drast .....

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school building was extremely poor with only cement-perforated windows. It took sufficient time for the fire fighters on a crane to break these windows and rescue the few children they could with severe burn injuries. The kitchen fire rose so high that the thatched roof of the classrooms caught fire and the blazing roof supported by bamboo poles collapsed on the school children and most of them died on the spot. 4. The nearby residents started dousing the flames and trying to rescue children. Th .....

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he school its licence to operate. 6. It is mentioned in the petition that the investigations have revealed that the school in Kumbakonam was last inspected three years ago. The school had a thatched roof in severe violation of building laws. It even had a thatched kitchen close to the thatched classrooms. The fire officials had described the school as a death trap. They said that the victims had no chance of escape when the fire erupted as they were doing their lessons on the top floor. It is al .....

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after the government pledged to enforce them after a private school building in Madurai caves in, killing 35 school girls and injuring 137. 8. The petitioner has prayed that he has filed this petition with a specific objective that: (1) each and every child of this country can receive good education free from fear of safety and security, (2) to ensure that more stringent rules and regulations are framed keeping in mind the safety of the students, (3) to ensure that such standards of safety are .....

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be framed to strengthen the laws to protect the children in school buildings in cases of fire and other kinds of emergencies. In the petition, the petitioner has prayed for: (i) Developing a manual with fire safety procedures, and other safety precautions and distributing them in schools. The manual can include the ways fires can be prevented through careful design, management, and maintenance practice; and ideas for limiting fire damage, and other calamities. Marking clear and safe emergency e .....

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t the schools are not exceeding the limit of the students it can admit in accordance with the facilities available for each school, ensuring proper facilities like safe drinking water, toilets, first aid boxes, proper ventilation, lighting etc is available to the students and the teachers. (v) Schools must take appropriate safety measures and an emergency response plan that delineates staff responsibilities, communication modes, and training and updating procedures for all members of the faculty .....

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ols to have proper safety measures in case of using boilers, kitchen, ensuring that there is no leakage while using or storing fuel, and that it is outside the reach of children. All school buildings must install fire extinguishing equipment and sensor alarms in case of fires. Such alarms must be able to automatically intimate the nearest local fire station so that their response times are much quicker in case of fire. (viii) Regular fire drills to make students aware of what to do in case of a .....

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mpliance with set standards and reinforce positive safe behaviour. (xi) The local authorities in both urban and rural areas should be given specific directions with regard to the safety measures by the respective State Government. 11. In the petition, it is averred that the State is duty bound to protect and secure lives of students across the country by ensuring the minimum safety standards. The State is liable to promulgate policies, which ensure the implementation of the safety laws and proce .....

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o fire safety systems, playgrounds or libraries. Most of these private schools in the district towns are located in a warren of congested lanes and school authorities often lock the gates when classes are on to keep children from slipping out of the school. Most of the schools in the villages and small towns are still made of thatched roofs made from coconut leaves or other cheap and easily available materials to avoid the cost of construction in flagrant violation of the building laws. 12. It i .....

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rcise of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15 and 19 of the Constitution of India. 13. In this petition, we are called upon to determine what, if any, safety standards schools should have and how, if at all, schools have not met those standards. 14. The National Building Code of India, 2005, promulgated by the Bureau of Indian Standards, provides detailed instructions on how to construct fire-safe buildings. Tables and drawings set standard for schools particularly, including number and type .....

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choice of proper materials and components, electrical equipments and making suitable provisions for fire detection and suppression system. 15. This Court issued notice to the Union of India, State Governments and the Union Territories. Replies and counter affidavits have been received from almost all the State Governments and the Union Territories and also the Union of India. This Court appointed Mr. Colin Gonsalves, learned Senior Advocate as Amicus Curiae. He also suggested some guidelines wh .....

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ed counts of schools and installed safety features, it emerges that thousands of schools lack any fire suppression equipment. Thousands more schools do not have adequate emergency egress or non-inflammable roofs. Unfortunately, most States failed to provide any quantitative data in their affidavits. Instead these States filed vague plans for future renovations and piecemeal schemes to improve schools safety. Little technical advice informs some of the plans, and few have any admitted force of la .....

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detail the exact standards required and relief sought later in this view. It is clearly borne out from the affidavits filed by the respondents that even the basic fire extinguishing equipments have not been installed in most of the schools. Majority of the schools do not have emergency exits. The schools must realize and properly comprehend the importance of the fire safety equipments, but unfortunately most of the schools do not have fire extinguishing equipments and consequently, the schools a .....

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enacted code s effectiveness, no matter the Code s intent, whether fire safety officials, routinely speak to the need for meaningful standards with real enforcement. 19. In the petition, the petitioner does not seek damages or court s finding on culpability. The main intention of filing this petition is to protect against similar future tragedies by improving the conditions of the schools in our country. 20. Education occupies an important place in our Constitution and culture. There has been e .....

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khale strongly advocated that elementary education should be both compulsory and free. 22. Our original Framers of the Constitution placed free and compulsory education in the Directive Principles. The unamended Article 45 provided that: The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years. 23. The Kothari Commission on Education set up by the .....

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ducation. Parliament did not merely affirm that right; the Amending Act placed the right to education within the Constitution s set of Fundamental Rights, the most cherished principles of our society. As the Court observed in Unni Krishnan (supra), para 8: The immortal Poet Valluvar whose Tirukkural will surpass all ages and transcend all religious said of education: Learning is excellence of wealth that none destroy; To man nought else affords reality of joy. 25. Education today remains liberat .....

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right in R. D. Upadhyay v. State of A.P. & Ors. AIR 2006 SC 1946, holding that the State must provide education to all children in all places, even in prisons, to the children of prisoners. We have also affirmed the inviolability of the right to education. In Election Commission of India v. St. Mary s School & Ors. (2008) 2 SCC 390, we refused to allow the State to take teachers from the classroom to work in polling places. While the democratic State has a mandate to conduct elections, t .....

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mprehensively and completely, in order to satisfy its highest duty to citizens. 27. Unlike other fundamental rights, the right to education places a burden not only on the State, but also on the parent or guardian of every child, and on the child herself. Article 21A, which reads as follows, places one obligation primarily on the State: The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine. 28. .....

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les also balance the relative burdens on parents and the State. Parents sacrifice for the education of their children, by sending them to school for hours of the day, but only with a commensurate sacrifice of the State s resources. The right to education, then, is more than a human or fundamental right. It is a reciprocal agreement between the State and the family, and it places an affirmative burden on all participants in our civil society. 30. This Court has routinely held that another fundame .....

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oom and a book. The right to education requires that a child study in a quality school, and a quality school certainly should pose no threat to a child s safety. We reached a similar conclusion, on the comprehensive guarantees implicit in the right to education, only recently in our opinion in Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India & Ors. (2008) 6 SCC 1. 31. The Constitution likewise provides meaning to the word education beyond its dictionary meaning. Parents should not be compelled to send .....

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facilities as part of a compulsory education. 32. In the instant case, we have no need to sketch all the contours of the Constitution s guarantees, so we do not. We merely hold that the right to education incorporates the provision of safe schools. 33. This Court in Ashoka Kumar Thakur s case (supra) observed as under: It has become necessary that the Government set a realistic target within which it must fully implement Article 21A regarding free and compulsory education for the entire country .....

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Government spending on free and compulsory education. 34. In view of the importance of Article 21A, it is imperative that the education which is provided to children in the primary schools should be in the environment of safety. 35. In view of what has happened in Lord Krishna Middle School in District Kumbakonam and other incidents which have been enumerated in the preceding paragraphs, it has become imperative that each school must follow the bare minimum safety standards, in addition to the c .....

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s should be readily available in the school. iii. Provision of water tank and separate piping from the tank with hose reel to the ground floor and first floor. iv. Fire fighting training to all teachers and students from X to XII standards. v. Fire Task Force in every school comprising of Head of the institution, two teachers / staff members and one member from the Fire and Rescue Department should be constituted. The Fire & Rescue Department member shall monitor and make fire safety plan an .....

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with the Fire and Rescue Department. ix. No High Tension lines should run inside or in close proximity to the school. Steps must be taken to shift them if they are already there. x. The Fire and Rescue Department shall frame guidelines with DOS and DON Ts for schools and issue a fitness certificate, which shall be renewed periodically. 3.2 TRAINING OF SCHOOL TEACHERS & OTHER STAFF: i. The teachers along with other staff shall be trained to handle safety equipment, initiate emergency evacuati .....

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to observe Fire Safety Day on 14th of April every year with awareness programs and fire safety drills in collaboration with the Fire and Rescue Department. 3.3 SCHOOL BUILDING SPECIFICATIONS: i. The school buildings shall preferably be a A Class construction with brick / stone masonry walls with RCC roofing. Where it is not possible to provide RCC roofing only non-combustible fireproof heat resistance materials should be used. ii. The nursery and elementary schools should be housed in single sto .....

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a way that proper air circulation and lighting is available with open space all round the building as far as possible. vi. Existing school buildings shall be provided with additional doors in the main entrances as well as the class rooms if required. The size of the main exit and classroom doors shall be enlarged if found inadequate. vii. School buildings have to be insured against fire and natural calamities with Group Insurance of school pupils. viii. Kitchen and other activities involving us .....

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vil Engineer, a Health Officer, a Revenue Officer, a Psychologist, a Fire Officer, a local body officer and a development officer besides the educational authorities shall carry inspection and assessment of infrastructural facilities before the commencement of each academic year. The Team shall submit its Inspection Report to the concerned district Chief Educational Officer. iii. The building plans for schools shall be prepared only by a Government certified engineer and the PWD Executive Engine .....

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d NGO shall be members. They shall visit the schools periodically or at least the erring institutions as listed by the Chief Education Officer. v. Conditional recognition / approval shall never by resorted to for any school. 36. In this petition, we need not take any action contrary to government policy to fulfill the Constitution s mandate. Union and State officials have already filed wide-ranging plans to improve school safety. Along with the National Building Code, a combination of the better .....

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in these administrative units make States better able to prepare for emergencies, as much as to respond once the problem has started. For example, the State of Gujarat has established such an emergency management office. Having already settled building codes and other large issues, the State can focus on other aspects of emergency management. With the assistance of outside experts, Gujarat recently created a colouring book to teach children how to respond to emergencies. On a smaller scale, but .....

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y agreed policy. 38. In the end, we should need to do little but enforce existing laws and encourage States in their own wellintentioned safety programmes. However, in the years since the fire at the Lord Krishna Middle School, some States have moved slowly and safety standards have varied in quality across States. These delays and variations have subjected millions more school children to danger from fire, earthquakes and other causes, when simple enhancements could offer much greater protectio .....

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