Sonipat Accident Again Highlights Urgent Need For Improving  Safety of Schools

sonipat school accident

On September 23 , in Gannaur area of Sonipat district, Haryana, the collpase of a roof led to  25 students of grade 3 getting injured. They were rushed to hospital. In addition three other persons including a teacher were injured too.

This tragic incident has once again highlighted the need for significant improvement in safety conditions in school—governmet schools as well as privately run schools.

About a year back, in mid-2020, the findings of a study by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had drawn much-needed attention to the pressing need for improving safety in schools. This study was based on a study of 26,071 schools spread across 12 states. This study found that 22% schools functioned from old and dilapidated buildings. 31% of the school buildings covered in this study reported cracks.

In the week before the survey 9 per cent of schools had experienced an electric shock or short circuit incident. About 37% did not have fire extinguishers. In 61% of the schools covered obsructions were found to exist in corridors and/or staircases. Here it may be pointed out that in most of the government-run schools mid-day meals are also cooked and hence there is extra need for safety precautions related to fires.

While these safety problems affect all students, there are others which affect girls more. There is lack of water within most toilets. This means that water has to be brought from outside. This can be a problem at times for girls and is certainly so for disability affected students. Disabled friendly wash rooms do not exist in most schools.

An exceptionally high number of schools are located close to rail tracks, this survey found, increasing need for special safety precautions.

Other surveys have found that there is substantial need for improvements in kitchens where mid-day meals are cooked , or where raw food provisions are stored.

It has also been reported that mobile towers have been set up quite close to some schools, increasing health risks for children. A student spending two to ten years of school life close to mobile tower would have possibilities of   high risk of serious health problems as a result of this. As other studies have shown, children are much more susceptible to these hazards than adults.

It is important to heed all these aspects as schools are re-opened after a long Covid break. It is possible that during the closure some normal repair and maintenance got neglected. This is particularly true of damage suffered during heavy rains. It is important therefore to look up safety conditions to avoid serious accidents likely the recent one in Sonipat district.

It used to be common earlier in dilapidated school buildings that if there is high-risk in one classroom, then its students would be asked to share another classroom. But with the requirement now of social distancing, this may not be possible. Hence there is more need than before for proper repairs and maintenance.

The past experience is that when attention is drawn to the seriousness of this issue,   in some places a lot of activity has been seen relating to identifying high-risk buildings but beyond this matters do not progress much . In parts of Odisha even orders to demolish such buildings were given but the more important point is whether safer school buildings were created in their place and whether adequate budgets were allotted for this. This is where progress has been much less than what is actually needed.

However, as the accident in Sonipat, and others preceding it, have shown, this neglect can prove very costly and hence there is very urgent need for launching a special program for making our schools safer.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Planet in Peril.

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