Millennium Post

Punjab school van tragedy: Principal, driver arrested on murder charge

Chandigarh: A day after four children were charred to death in a fire tragedy involving a ramshackle van in Punjab's Sangrur, police slapped murder charges against the driver and the owner-cum-principal of the school to which the vehicle belonged.

Confirming it, Sunam DSP Sukhbinder Pal Singh said school owner-cum-principal Lakhwinder and van driver Dalbir were arrested on the murder charge on the complaint of a girl's father.

Meanwhile, a tearful adieu was given to the children at their native place in Sangrur on Sunday.

"The complainant has stated that on previous occasions too the school principal and the driver had been warned about the condition of an auto-rickshaw which they had provided for ferrying children," the DSP said over the phone.

"The complainant alleged that when the school van was provided, it was even riskier than the previous vehicle and the deliberate act on the part of the accused endangered the lives of children," the DSP added.

When asked that the van was stated to be very old, the DSP said they have sought all records from the regional transport authorities.

"These should be available on Monday," he said.

Earlier, police had booked the principal, school management and the van driver on charges of causing culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code. The murder charge was added later.

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the apex religious body of Sikhs, has announced Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of the each victim.

SGPC chief Gobind Singh Longowal demanded strict action against the officials whose negligence led to the plying of unfit vehicles on roads.

The children, who were charred to death inside the vehicle, included a nearly three-year-old girl visiting the school for the first time, police had said.

"She was fond of 'paranthas' and I had packed them in her tiffin," said her inconsolable mother on Sunday.

The petrol vehicle, stated to be a 1990-model, fitted with an LPG cylinder, was bought by the school authorities on Friday and deployed to ferry children for the first time on Saturday.

The accident took place on the Longowal-Sidsaachar road, police had said, adding that 12 children were in the van at the time of the incident.

While eight children were rescued from the burning van by people working in nearby fields, four, including the three-year-old girl, were burnt alive, they added.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh too had ordered a magisterial probe into the incident while ordering the state Transport Department to launch a statewide checking of the road worthiness and fitness of all school buses.

He also ordered an ex gratia of Rs 7.25 lakh to each of the victim families.

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