Police yesterday charged the owners of a private school which turned into an inferno that killed 23 teenagers, some who died jumping from the building in a desperate bid to escape the flames, officials said.
Sixteen of the dead were young women who had been preparing for exams at the tuition centre illegally set up on the top of a commercial building in Surat, the officials said.
All of Gujarat’s eight municipal corporations and scores of municipalities ordered closure of all tuition centres running in commercial complexes.
Officials said the tuition centres had been ordered to put all fire safety norms in place, without which they would not be allowed to function.
The authorities started investigating fire safety norms in coaching classes, private hospitals and other buildings in various towns and cities of the state.
Many of these buildings, including a reading library in capital Gandhinagar, were sealed, along with 40 coaching centres in Bharuch and many others at several places. Horrifying images of students leaping from upper floors of Takshashila Arcade building on Friday afternoon have spread on social media.
A youth died in hospital yesterday, increasing the toll, as an inquiry revealed that the victims were studying in a plastic dome that was quickly engulfed by flames.
The victims were aged between 15 and 22, police said.
More than 50 students were in classes when the fire erupted.
Government officials said five of the dead had been due to receive exam results determining their university entrance yesterday.
All had passed with flying colours, one official told said.
Police have charged three owners of the tuition centre at the Takshashila Arcade with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and attempted culpable homicide.
Surat Police Commissioner Satish Sharma told reporters that one of the accused, Bhargav Bhutani, had been detained.
Media reports said the other two were on the run.
Sharma appealed for calm after some groups called for public protests while there were angry skirmishes on Friday night at the hospital where the injured were taken.
But 22-year-old Ketan Chodvadiya has been hailed as a hero of the tragedy after he was shown in videos climbing the side of the flaming building to try to save some of the teenagers.
“I climbed to the spot where I was seen in the video with the help of a ladder,” he told the Indian Express newspaper.
“One student fell down and I couldn’t catch her. I could see her lying dead and I can’t forget the sight and I will always regret that I couldn’t save her, but I am happy I could help around eight to ten students escape,” he added.
Widespread safety breaches were found at the centre, officials said.
“The fire was caused by a short circuit in one of the air-conditioning ducts on the ground floor and spread to the third floor,” said Surat’s Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner U Upadhyay.
The Takshashila Arcade had permission for just one floor but two additional storeys were illegally constructed, according to fire official Basant Parekh.
“The coaching class owners had illegally occupied the terrace and had put up a makeshift dome,” he added.
Some eyewitnesses and families of the victims have alleged fire officials were slow to arrive.
Paresh Patel, whose daughter was inside the commercial complex when the fire broke out, said the fire brigade took 45 minutes to arrive.
“Even though my daughter got saved, she is still in trauma,” he said.
Surat city has set up a team to identify other illegal structures being used for tuition classes in exam season. Images showing flames and black smoke billowing out of the building and students jumping from the upper floors have been widely shared.
Widespread public grief and anger has been expressed at the disaster.
Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan said on Twitter that he felt “grief beyond expression”.
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, also expressed condolences.
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