BLAZE HAZARD: Primary schools located on narrow and congested roads in Burrabazar are a fire risk for students. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
6Ruby Memorial School, on Balai Dutta Street, is a Montessori institution on the first floor of a derelict building. The approach to the school — where its owner also lives — is by a narrow staircase that is dark even during the day.
6Usha Balika Bidyalay, established in 1942, fares no better. The school, where girls can study up to Class IV, is located in a residential building. The classrooms and residential quarters face each other. Only one person at a time can use the steep, dark staircase.
The flames at the Nandaram Market complex have been put out but the fate of hundreds of students studying in primary schools in Burrabazar, with almost no fire-fighting arrangement, remains uncertain.
Many of the schools, where four to 10-year-old boys and girls study, are housed in multi-storeyed residential buildings in lanes that are too narrow for fire engines to enter. Most of them have only one narrow exit. If any of the schools catch fire, the firemen will face the same problems they faced at Nandaram.
“Fire engines are bound to face problems in reaching our school if there is a fire,” admitted Surendra Pratap Singh, the headmaster of Adarsh Siksha Sadan, a primary school in Mechhua.
According to the education department records, 240 primary schools operate from rented premises in Calcutta, Howrah and North 24-Parganas. Most of these schools lack fire-safety arrangements, said an official of the department.
The Nandaram blaze has prompted the government to consider relocating the state-aided primary schools operating out of rented premises in congested pockets in Calcutta, Howrah and North 24-Parganas.
The schools in Calcutta are concentrated in Jorasanko, Mechhua, Chitpur, Colootola, Strand Road and in some parts of Kidderpore.
“Fire safety arrangements and other facilities like spacious classrooms, clean toilets and easy access to drinking water are lacking in many primary schools in Burrabazar, Howrah and North 24-Parganas,” said Sukumar Mahapatra, the joint secretary of the school education department.
State school education minister Partha De will soon meet the heads of primary school councils of Calcutta, Howrah and North 24-Parganas to discuss ways to relocate them to safer structures, added the official. Relocation of the schools is necessary to bolster their safety measures.
Kartick Saha, the general secretary of Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association, said: “The majority of the schools, which offer education in Hindi and Urdu medium, were set up decades ago. They catered to the need of the trader community but the student strength is on the decline.”