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Kumbakonam fire tragedy: notice issued to Centre, State

J. Venkatesan

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government on a writ petition filed by Kumbakonam fire tragedy victims' association for a direction to the Centre and the State government to grant higher compensation to the victims of the tragedy, which took place on July 16, 2004.

A Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma, after hearing petitioner's counsel Anju Arora, also issued notice to the school authorities seeking their response.

The counsel submitted that despite the inquiry commission finding that the fire was caused due to the negligence of school staff and criminal insensitivity of the State Education Department, only an ex gratia amount of Rs.1 lakh to the kin of the deceased; Rs. 25,000 to the severely injured; and Rs. 10,000 to other injured had been paid, with no compensation. The report was received by the government about five years ago.

It pointed out that no steps had been taken to rehabilitate the injured students and further no treatment like plastic/corrective surgery was being provided. The petitioner said the incident had destroyed the psychology of the family members of the victims and the people affected by it. The victims were not in a position to live a normal, healthy life as they could not get moral/financial support from government agencies at the appropriate time.

It pointed out that the Central and the State governments and the school management had escaped their liability of granting compensation to the victims.

The petition raised important questions of law, viz whether the State was vicariously liable for the negligence of officials of the department concerned while performing their official duties and failing to enforce the law; whether the fundamental rights of the victims under Articles 21 and 21A (right to life and liberty and right to education) were violated and whether an ex gratia amount of Rs.1 lakh to the kin of the deceased victims was justifiable, equitable and reasonable.

The petitioner sought a direction to the respondents to grant adequate compensation to the families of the victims with 12 per cent interest from the date of the fire accident.

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