The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hostel collapse alert on deaf ears

Ahmedabad, Jan. 27: Principal Ramesh Chaudhary must have sensed it was coming. So he kept writing to the authorities, among them the chief minister and the education minister.

Had they listened to his desperate pleas, 11 young girls would have still been alive.

Today, after rescue teams ended their search through the rubble, the 11 tribal girls lay dead, crushed under the brick and concrete of their school hostel.

Another 24 were injured when the four-storey building, 60 km from Surat, collapsed last night when most of the girls were doing their homework.

The toll has reached 11, an official told PTI this morning. “Rescue workers removed two more bodies from the rubble. The operation is over, as there do not seem to be any more persons trapped in the debris,” district collector Vatsala Vasudev said.

As sobbing parents accused the authorities of ignoring warnings that the building’s structure was weak, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi ordered a probe to examine the quality of the material used by the contractor.

Education minister Anandiben Patel admitted that the principal had written to the road and building department about the condition of the hostel constructed by the scheduled tribes welfare department in 1995.

But Patel, who supervised the rescue operation till 3 this morning, said “repair work was on for the last one month and there was no question of negligence”. She couldn’t, however, explain why the hostel had not been vacated if it was really being repaired.

Patel later decided to shift the 300-odd students of the school, Ashram Shala, to other boarding schools in the region.

The Gujarat Adivasi Sabha, a local tribal organisation, has rejected the probe ordered by the chief minister as “inadequate”.

“A judicial inquiry should be ordered and a committee of tribal representatives should be asked to probe,” it said as it called for criminal proceedings against the Surat-based contractor.

Tribal activists also asked the government to raise the compensation from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh each for the families of the dead girls.

Many parents said their daughters had warned of the risk of a collapse.

“My daughter and her friends used to complain that the structure and even the stairs wobbled during strong wind,” wept Suresh Gamit, who lost his only daughter, Tejal.

Many students said they did not want to study in the school anymore. “I am too scared,” said injured Class VIII student Neelam Dodiya from her hospital bed.

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