Four children killed as school van catches fire in Punjab; CM orders probe

Chandigarh, Feb 15 (PTI) In a ghastly incident, four children were burnt alive when a private school's mini van carrying students caught fire in Punjab's Sangrur district on Saturday, police said.

The accident took place on the Longowal-Sidsaachar road, they said, adding 12 children were in the van at the time of mishap.

While eight children were taken out safely by people working in nearby fields, four, including a girl three-year-old girl, were charred to death, they added.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered a magisterial enquiry into the incident.

'Very sad to learn of the news from Sangrur where we lost 4 children because their school van caught fire. Injured have been rushed to the hospital. DC and SSP Sangrur are on the spot and I have ordered a magisterial enquiry. Guilty will be strictly punished,' he tweeted The children were returning home from school when the incident occurred, they said.

Sangrur Deputy Commissioner Ghanshyam Thori, who visited the spot, told media that police had registered a case under Section 304 of IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) against the school principal, its management and the owner and driver of the van.

'Preliminary inquiry indicates that the van was in condemned condition and was being run illegally as per the report of District Transport Officer (DTO). If the DTO or any official of his office is found guilty, he will be chargesheeted,' he said.

He said the school situated at Longowal village was recently shifted to a new building on the outskirts of the village.

'The school has a temporary affiliation with the Punjab School Education Board, while the van being used was condemned and without relevant documentation,' he said.

Sangrur Civil Hospital's senior surgeon, Dr Raj Kumar, said no child was admitted to the government hospitals in the district.

'The children who survived were taken away by their families from the spot,' he said.

Police sources said the van was of 1990's model fitted with LPG kit and was unfit to run on the road. The driver of the van fled the spot after the van caught fire, they said.

Punjab Education Minister Vijay Inder Singla, who is also Sangrur MLA, told media at the spot that the private 'Simran Public School' had purchased the 'very old van' on Friday.

He announced an ex-gratia of Rs five lakh each to the families of the victims.

Sangrur MP and AAP leader Bhagwant Mann, who visited the spot, told media that the van was put to use by the school for the first day on Saturday. He demanded the registration of a murder case against school officials and the owner of the van.

He said the victims included around a three-year-old girl, who went to the school for the first time.

He said among the dead, two were from the same family.

Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi Party and SAD condemned the incident and expressed condolences for the victim's families.

'I strongly condemn the usage of LPG-powered school van that has caused this havoc. Strict action needed against the school and the civil administration,' Punjab AAP chief Harpal Singh Cheema wrote on his twitter handle.

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