Mishaps or Mismanagement? Why do we mull over prevention only after lives are lost

Death of kids and a demolition order of school buildings in Tamil Nadu call for discussions on how to stop mishaps from happening and keep our children safe

A school building wall collapse that killed three school kids and left another three seriously injured, on Friday, in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, seems to be prompting the state administration to look at means to prevent such unfortunate incidents in future.

In what looks like the roll-out of precautionary measures that would help prevent such accidents in schools, the District Collector of Pudukkotai, another district in the state, has ordered the demolition of as many as 100 school buildings. The reason for the order is that these 100 school buildings do not have any safety standards.

Though it may be seen as a ‘better-late-than-never’ decision, the fact that these schools have been functioning unhindered all these years need to trigger a debate on how such unsafe buildings were let to function, risking children’s lives.

When mishaps prompt action

As many as 100 school buildings functioning under totally unsafe conditions point to the callousness in even matters concerning little kids. Students come to school unaware of the grave dangers that lurk above them. The accident that killed three students is an eye opener. But, how do such buildings get approval to operate classrooms, by posing a huge risk to all those inside is a question authorities need to answer.

Though reports in the Tamil media have quoted officials as saying that the 100 buildings, whose demolition has been ordered, haven’t been in use, need to be revisited. School buildings constructed as per norms being kept away from being used due to non-adherence to safety standards is understandable. But then, the question remains as to whether action has been taken against those construction companies or individuals who are responsible for such unsafe structures.

It isn’t just Pudukkottai which is gearing up for the demolition of unsafe school buildings. While in Madurai, 120 class rooms and 80 bathrooms in schools are to be demolished, in Trichy, as many as 410 school buildings have been identified for demolition. Many more in other districts are likely to be notified.

An unsafe school building means putting our kids at risk

Following the Tirunelveli mishap, the school education department is said to have communicated to the Pudukkottai district authorities pointing out the unsafe conditions of close to 260 school buildings.

And among them, the 100 ones that were totally unsafe have been ordered to be demolished. In this context, the department also needs to clarify on what all criteria were adopted to declare around 260 schools as poorly constructed and unsafe.

The fact is that school buildings in poor conditions means a potential risk. What action has been taken against the ones cleared of demolition, no one knows.

Only when a mishap occurs resulting in loss of lives do authorities swing into action to prevent further such incidents. As responsible administrators, it is imperative that no such accidents should be allowed to happen in the first place.

The loss of lives of school children in Tirunelveli isn’t something that has to be relegated to just a day’s news byte. The fall out, the failure in prevention of such an occurrence, and a situation where those responsible for building unsafe structures walk scot free are to be discussed.

Sanjeev Ramachandran

A journalist with 23 years of experience, Sanjeev has worked with reputed media houses such as Business Standard, The Ne More »
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