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Is Your Children's school is safe? Fire safety drills a must for Indian schools

MUMBAI: Weeks after the Mantralaya fire, the school education minister has announced that fire safety drills will be conducted in all the state's schools. 

"A Supreme Court judgement focuses on the importance of fire safety in schools. We will soon bring out a government resolution (GR) in continuation to it," said state education minister Rajendra Darda. 

Following the death of 83 children in a Tamil Nadu school fire in July 2004, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court. On April 13, 2009, the apex court ordered all government and private schools to strictly comply with safety measures prescribed by the National Building Code of India (NBCI) in 2005 and asked states and Union Territories to de-recognize schools not complying with safety measures. Soon after the ruling, on September 23, 2009, the urban development department, Government of Maharashtra, issued a notification to commissioners of all municipal corporations, directors, the municipal administration and CEOs of zilla parishads to implement the court order. 

"A fire audit in schools in ground-plus-one buildings is mandatory, and we will ensure it is implemented. We are worried about the safety of children studying in schools," said Darda. A meeting was held few days after the fire at Mantralaya and a second meeting will be held next week. "Many of our papers got destroyed in the fire so it is taking a while to get the new GR ready. By next week, we will try and send out instructions to schools about the rules and regulations that schools must follow," he said. 

Meanwhile, the students' wing of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has urged the state government to make fire audits at schools and colleges mandatory. 

Most already adhering to norms? 

MUMBAI: Even as the state education department is busy forming new fire safety guidelines, reporter checked with schools from all boards and found that most are already adhering to state government rules. 

"Every school follows guidelines mentioned by the fire department. The government should check if the rules are still being followed," said Carl Laurie, principal, Christ Chur-ch School, Byculla. Schools were sent a list of notifications in 2009, after a Supreme Court order on the issue. 

"Our schools are equipped with fire-extinguishers in every corner of the building and we conduct mock-drills annually. All security measures were in place but after the recent Mantralaya fire, schools have become more vigilant. We have gone through fire safety measures all over again," said Fr Francis Swamy, principal, Holy Family High School, Andheri (E). He said it was time to re-check safety norms in schools and conduct workshops with students on fire drills and other safety measures. 

It is now mandatory for schools to get a certificate from the fire department before they receive a no-objection certificate from the education department. "Apart from this, the Central Board of Secondary Examinations (CBSE) makes it mandatory for schools to be equipped with fire safety rules and only then do we get a board certification," said Avnita Bir, principal, R N Podar School. 

The problem lies with schools established decades ago. "Schools are always equipped but structural changes to buildings seem impossible now. We are trying to work around some problems, but if the government makes it mandatory, we will have no option" said the principal of a south Mumbai school. The education department plans to notify schools statewide in the next week on fire safety rules.

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