Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

Young hopes snuffed out in Indian coaching school fire

At least 20 pupils killed a day before they were due to receive pre-university exam results

People place candles next to a banner with pictures of victims of a fire at student coaching in Surat, western India, during a candlelight vigil in Ahmedabad on May 25, 2019. AFP
People place candles next to a banner with pictures of victims of a fire at student coaching in Surat, western India, during a candlelight vigil in Ahmedabad on May 25, 2019. AFP

On Saturday, Yashvi Kevadia would have received the results of her 12th-grade final exams and started to make plans for university, hoping to work towards her ambition of being a fashion designer.

Instead, on Friday evening, she called her father Dinesh to tell him that a fire had spread through her tutoring centre on the third and fourth floors of a building in Surat, a town in Gujarat state. Mr Kevadia was not able to reach her again. Yashvi died in the fire, along with at least 19 other students.

The names and other details of the victims have not yet been officially released. Four other students had been awaiting exam results on Saturday, government officials told AFP, adding that they had all passed “with flying colours”.

Firefighters work to douse flames engulfing a coaching school on top of a building in Surat, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, on May 24, 2019. AP Photo
Firefighters work to douse flames engulfing a coaching school on top of a building in Surat, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, on May 24, 2019. AP Photo

The source of the fire has yet to be determined, although an electrical short circuit is suspected. But the flames spread so quickly that students did not have time to flee. Some jumped off the top off the building, trying to escape. One of the jumpers, Rushit Vekariya, told the Times of India that he needed eight stitches on his head. “A friend is being treated in the same hospital, but I do not know if he will survive,” he said.

The fire brigade reached the building only 45 minutes after the blaze broke out, and fire engines then had trouble finding a place to park – all of which delayed any rescue attempts.

One bystander, a young man named Ketan Jorawadia, found a ladder and leaned it against the building, climbed in at the third floor, and rescued, by his estimate, between eight and 10 students.

Paresh Patel, the father of a student who was rescued, told the news service ANI that he knew of “at least five-six parents [who] are still looking for their missing child”.

The National Human Rights Commission has called the incident “a grave violation of the human rights of the young students”. The building had no safe fire exits, the commission said, and the Gujarat government’s announcement of 400,000 rupees (Dh21,174) as compensation to the family of each dead student “cannot be a solution to such kinds of hazards”.

The chief minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani, has directed an official to conduct an inquiry into the fire. Police officials said that the owners of the coaching centre would be charged with culpable homicide. One of the three men accused, Bhargav Bhutani, has been detained. The other two have not yet been found.

Indian students in Amritsar, Punjab hold a vigil for the victims of a fire in Surat on May 25, 2019. AFP
Indian students in Amritsar, Punjab hold a vigil for the victims of a fire in Surat on May 25, 2019. AFP

Images showing flames and black smoke billowing out of the building and students jumping from the upper floors have been widely shared on social media.

Widespread public grief and anger has been expressed at the disaster.

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan said on Twitter that he felt "grief beyond expression".

"A devastating fire and 14-17 year old children caught in it jump off the building and perish," he said.

R Madhavan another leading actor and producer, said on Twitter: "Those breaking the norms should be EXECUTED."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who comes from Gujarat state, said on Twitter: "Extremely anguished by the fire tragedy in Surat.

"My thoughts are with bereaved families. May the injured recover quickly. Have asked the Gujarat government and local authorities to provide all possible assistance to those affected."

Updated: May 27, 2019 05:49 AM

SHARE

SHARE