In the massive crackdown that followed the TRP Game Zone fire in Rajkot, which killed children among 27, around 600-700 schools were sealed across the state over fire NOCs and building use clearances (BUCs).

With summer vacations slated to end on June 13, schools have now appealed to the state government to help resolve the crisis, stressing that students will bear the brunt if the reopening is delayed.

Amid queries by concerned parents, the Swanirbhar Shala Sanchalak Mandal (self-financed schools association) on Friday made a representation to Gujarat Education Minister Praful Panseriya over the matter. Following the representation, Panseriya assured to place the matter before Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel soon.

Speaking with The Indian Express, Panseriya said, “We have come to know that between 600-700 private schools have been sealed across the state for not having BUCs and fire NOcs. The civic bodies are working on the guidelines of the Gujarat High Court order. In Surat, some schools – that are sealed – came under the city limits after delimitation and the issue is how will they submit a BUC…”

“I am sure that the High Court – after going through such problems faced by students and parents – will come out with some amicable solution so that students do not get affected. We will work on the instructions of the court order…,” he added.

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He further said, “The representative body met me yesterday (June 7) and even they know that schools should not function without proper fire safety measures. They told us that a majority of the sealed schools have such clearances. The only problem is BUCs. We will make representations to the Chief Minister on this issue.”

The Rajkot game zone fire on May 25 pushed authorities across the state into action and multiple commercial buildings, hospitals, and educational institutions were sealed over not having fire NOC (No Objection Certificate) and BUC (Building Use Certificate or Permission).

The action also came after a reprimand by the Gujarat High Court that took a suo motu cognizance of the incident. “Now, we don’t trust the Gujarat government anymore,” the court had said in sharp remarks after the fire as it became clear that the game zone was operating without a fire clearance.

Among the units sealed, around 74 buildings house some 200 schools in Surat. Ahmedabad has six and Gandhinagar has four school buildings. Surat District Education Officer (DEO) Bhagirath Parmar told The Indian Express, “There are over 74 buildings which run primary, secondary and higher secondary schools in a single building in the morning, afternoon. So the number of schools running from these buildings is over 200.”

On Friday, the school association also handed a memorandum to Surat Municipal Commissioner Shalini Agrawal, Mayor Daxesh Mawani, and apart from Panseriya, who is from Surat, and requested to reopen the schools which have valid NOCs.

“We are unhappy with the unnecessary harassment by the authorities to the school authorities during the sealing process. A majority of the schools in Surat possess fire safety facilities but have problems with BUC. A majority of schools which are sealed do not have BUC as they are over 25 to 30 years old. They were set up in villages but now come under city limit area after delimitation,” read the memorandum.
The memorandum further added, “Recently, Class X board exam results were announced. Several procedures – giving marksheets, school leaving certificates, and trial certificates to students – are due and the school authorities are helpless as their premises are sealed. Lakhs of students are getting affected.”

According to an affidavit by Kaizad Dastoor, in-charge chief fire officer, Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation, as on June 1, 62 schools had valid fire NOCs while four did not. The affidavit notes that of the four, as on May 31, Ba Shri Vasant Kunvarba Kanya Vidhyalay and Delhi Public School in Ambapur were sealed as the two schools were open despite not having a valid fire NOC. Two other schools, which are otherwise closed, were issued notice to immediately renew their fire safety certificate.

MB Mistry, in charge additional chief fire officer, Ahmedabad Fire Emergency Services, said there are currently six schools in Ahmedabad which have been sealed over fire clearance. While presently all six of these schools are closed for vacations, Mistry said, “They will either have to apply for a new fire NOC or renew… only then can the schools be reopened.”

Ahmedabad city district education officer (DEO) Rohit Chaudhari said that there is no significant impact felt and that the schools sealed have already applied for fire NOC now. “The Directorate of State Fire Prevention Services has communicated that those who do not have fire NOCs have to comply by July 15,” said Chaudhari.

Chaudhari added that the District Education Office in collaboration with the city’s fire department also conducted surprise audits in three schools with fire NOCs – Udgam School, Navkar School and St Kabir. Several deficiencies were recorded in the first two schools, with lack of fire safety training, eroded smoke detectors, storage of inflammable material such as yoga mats, lack of functioning sprinklers in chemistry laboratory, etc and the two have been asked to rectify the deficiencies within a week

Meanwhile, in its memorandum, the self-finance school association demanded authorities should take into consideration the “structural stability certificate” of the schools as an alternative to BUC.

Speaking with The Indian Express Rajeshbhai Nakrani, president of the mandal, said, “The authorities should reopen the schools which already possess fire safety equipment and are awaiting for getting the construction approved followed by completing the impact fees process. The new academic year starts from June 13, and our position is critical. We don’t know how to answer the parents.”