EDITORIAL: Safety is no accident

Students spend much of their quality time in school daily, and their safety should be of paramount concern of the school administration

It was an accident waiting to happen, what with the negligence and short shrift given to the safety of the students in our schools and colleges. At least 42 students were injured, with one in critical condition, when the balcony of Bidya Kunja English Boarding School in Tarakeshwor caved in on Wednesday. The students were watching a football match when the balcony gave away all of a sudden, leaving many students with broken arms and legs, and cuts and bruises on other parts of the body. The students must count themselves lucky that there were no deaths in the incident, although one is in critical condition after undergoing surgery in the head. The students fell from the balcony that was around nine feet above the ground, and the injuries could have been graver had the balcony been on the upper floors. That the balcony collapsed within a year of its construction means either the engineering design was faulty or that comprises were made in its construction.

Though sporadic, this is not the first time parts of or entire school or college buildings have collapsed in Nepal. The Gorkha Earthquake of 2015 revealed just how vulnerable Nepali schools and colleges were to natural disasters, such as an earthquake. The quake damaged more than 16,000 public and private schools in the country, or about half the total, an indication that hundreds of thousands of students were studying in schools that have unsafe buildings. We were lucky that the quake hit Nepal on a Saturday when educational institutions as well as banks and offices are closed. Just one institute - Morgan International College - would have seen hundreds of casualties that day when the six-storey building collapsed in less than 30 seconds. In 2016, two girls were killed and 25 others were injured when a 7-foot retaining wall adjoining Pushpanjali Secondary School collapsed and crashed into two classrooms. But have we learnt any lessons from the earthquake or other accidents in schools? Possibly no, as life continues as usual with little consideration for the safety of our children and youth.

Following the tragic incident at Bidya Kunja, there is a clamour to arrest the principal for criminal negligence. Still others, namely parents and consumer protection forums, have demanded schools meet the Comprehensive School Safety guidelines. It is common knowledge that most of the private schools and colleges do not have a building of their own, and they operate from rented multi-storey residential houses or buildings meant for another purpose. In case of a disaster, there is no way to evacuate the children to a safe haven. But will the government and other stakeholders take the advice seriously and follow up on the matter or do we expect the case to fizzle out over time as with most similar incidents in the past? Students spend much of their quality time in school daily, and their safety, whether in the classroom, playground or on the way back home, should be of paramount concern of the school administration. The government has the moral responsibility to see that the schools, whether public or private, take the safety of the students seriously.

Project monitoring

PM KP Sharma Oli on Wednesday inspected the work progress being made in various national pride projects from his ‘action room’ in the PM’s office at Singha Durbar. He talked with the chiefs of major development projects that are under construction through video conferencing. He, along with other concerned ministers, took stock of the projects, such as the Pokhara Regional International Airport (PRIA), Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA), Upper Tamakoshi Project, Bheri Babai Diversion Project, Rani-Jamara Irrigation Project and Sikta Irrigation Project. The Tamakoshi project is in the final stage of its completion while the GBIA has completed around 83 per cent of the work. Except for the PRIA, progress of other projects is unsatisfactory.

The action room was inaugurated on May 29 to carry out real time monitoring of these projects from Singha Durbar. The PM asked the project chiefs to complete the development works within the deadline so that the nation could benefit from the investment made in them. Most of the national pride projects have been delayed as they faced problems not anticipated while preparing their detailed project report. The PM and the concerned ministers should address such problems faced by the project chiefs.