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Boys drowned due to poor roadwork, says blind school

This story by me was first published in the IIJNM publication The Observer, on Oct 6, 2015. The Observer is the work of print journalism students who report exclusive news stories from Bangalore and the state of Karnataka.

Faulty road construction near a lake was why two students drowned recently, a blind school has alleged.

Chandan, 14, and Dinesh, 15, had lost their lives in the Maragondanahalli lake in Devanahalli during the Ganesha idol immersion on September 19.

Sri Rakum School for the Blind, the non-profit school where the boys studied, faces lack of funds after the incident. The two boys were sighted.

A "danger" sign has been put up near the lake by the school with help of the local police station.

A “danger” sign has been put up near the lake by the school with help of the local police station.

“Every year our school has the festival, but recently they created a new road near the lake,” said Sri Rakum Guruji, the founder of the school.

“To build the road, you must remove the mud from the centre of the lake, not from the sides. But the contractor dug the mud from the sides of the lake.” This resulted in the drowning, he alleged.

“As you move into the lake, for about the first eight to nine feet, the depth is only about two to three feet. But as you move forward beyond the ninth foot, the depth suddenly becomes 25 to 30 ft. due to the removed mud,” said Sri Nataraj, the headmaster of the school.

After the contractor made the road, he should have put up a signboard saying so, said Rakum. With the help of the Viswanathapuram police station , the school has now put up a sign near the lake, reading: “Danger Zone: Please do not immerse Ganesha idols here.”

“We are unsure about the depth of the lake right now, but the allegation by the school might be right. The investigation is in progress,” said sources in the Viswanathapuram police station, under whose jurisdiction the school lies. “At the time of the immersion, the students slipped. Some children were rescued but two died. The complaint was filed by the headmaster of Rakum School. A case of accidental drowning was registered under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).”

“For the last 13 years, the school had been immersing the idol in this lake. The lake is 1 km from the school. The teachers had asked the children not to move forward, but they were standing on mud and they might have slipped. The lake was deep,” said Rajanna V., a former long-time member of the local Panchayat, Jalige.

The mishap has also resulted in a lack of funds for the school. “When suddenly this tragedy happened, we crashed,” said Rakum. “Rs.8 lakh went to parents as compensation. We spent Rs.2 lakh for funeral expenses, police investigations and post-mortem report. And the hostel was shifted, as none of the boys wanted to stay in the hostel. This cost us another Rs.5 lakh.”

“The school is for blind students, but there are sighted students as well,” said Sri Nataraj.

Now, there is hardly any money left to pay salaries for the month, said Rakum. The school has 110 employees in three campuses, including teachers and gaushala workers.

However, the founder is positive about the future. “I believe, anyway we have lived 18 years on a day-to-day basis of funding. People shouldn’t shy off from donating because of this tragedy. We have given maximum security to our students.”

He said that if they get a liquid cash of Rs.20 lakh a month and a buffer amount of Rs.10 lakh, the school can survive.
Chandan’s father said that he did not want to file a complaint against the school as the school has given all their support and it was not the school’s fault.

Despite repeated attempts to obtain a statement from the road builder, the local panchayat office, the area’s MLA and the police all said they did not know his name.

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