Four children burnt alive as school van catches fire in Punjab; CM orders probe

In a tragic incident, four children were charred to death when a nearly-30-year-old, illegally run, ramshackle van of a private school ferrying students back home caught fire in Punjab’s Sangrur district on Saturday, police said.
The children, who were trapped inside the burning van and burnt alive, included a nearly three-year-old girl, visiting the school for the first, they said.
The 1990’s-model, petrol vehicle, fitted with an LPG cylinder, itself was bought by the school authorities on Friday and deployed to ferry children for the first time on Saturday.
The accident took place on the Longowal-Sidsaachar road, police said, adding 12 children were in the van at the time of the incident.
While eight children were rescued from the burning van by people working in nearby fields, four others, including the three-year-old girl, were burnt alive in the vehicle, they added.
The police reacted to the tragic incident by booking the school principal, its management and the van’s driver of the van on charges of causing culpable homicide not amounting to murder under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh too ordered a magisterial probe into the incident, while ordering the state Transport Department to launch a statewide checking of the road-worthiness and fitness to all school buses for students’ safety.
He also ordered an ex-gratia payment of Rs 7.25 lakh to each of the victims’ families.
“Very sad to learn of the news from Sangrur where we lost 4 children because their school van caught fire. Injured have been rushed to the hospital. DC and SSP Sangrur are on the spot and I have ordered a magisterial enquiry. Guilty will be strictly punished,” he tweeted While ordering state Transport Department to run a safety check of all school vehicles to avoid recurrence of such a tragedy, he also directed the District Child Protection Officers of Social Security Department to keep a strict vigil on schools vehicles violating provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act.
He also directed the District Child Protection Officers to identify school managements using worn out vehicles for transportation of students.
He ordered the Transport Department to take strict action against any erring school managements, found violating the norms and guidelines prescribed under the various provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act, an official release said.
Sangrur Deputy Commissioner Ghanshyam Thori, who visited the spot, told media that police have registered a case under Section 304 of the IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) against the school principal, its management and the owner and’driver of the van.
“Preliminary inquiry indicates that the van was in condemned condition and was being run illegally as per a report of the District Transport Officer (DTO). If the DTO or any official of his office is found guilty he will be chargesheeted,” he said.
He added the school situated at Longowal village was recently shifted to a new building on the outskirts of the village.
“The school has a temporary affiliation with the Punjab School Education Board while the van being used had been condemned and was without relevant documents,” he said.
Sangrur Civil Hospital senior surgeon Dr Raj Kumar, said no child was admitted to the government hospitals in the district.
“The children who survived were taken away by their families from the spot,” he said.
Police sources said the van was of 1990’s petrol model and was unfit to run on the road. The driver of the van ran away from the spot as soon as the vehicle caught fire, leaving children trapped inside, they said.
Punjab Education Minister Vijay Inder Singla, who is also the Sangrur MLA, told reporters at the accident spot that the private ‘Simran Public School’ had purchased the “very old van” only on Friday.
Sangrur MP and AAP leader Bhagwant Mann, who visited the spot, told media that the van was put to use by the school for the first day on Saturday.’ ‘ He demanded registration of murder case against school officials and owner of the van.
He said the victims included an around three-year-old girl, who went to the school for the first time.
He said two of the dead children belonged top the same family.
Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi Party and SAD condemned the incident and extended his condolence to the victims’ families.
“I strongly condemn the usage of LPG-powered school van which caused this havoc. Strict action needed against school and civil administration,” Punjab AAP chief Harpal Singh Cheema wrote on his twitter handle.
Meanwhile, several villagers, including parents of the victims, have staged a sit-in at the spot and refused to take bodies till action is taken against guilty.