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Longowal van fire: Four kids cremated amid heart-rending scenes

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The final rites of four kindergarten students who died after their school van caught fire in Sangrur were performed on Sunday morning at Amar Singhwala village in the district’s Longowal town. Eight others, who were saved after breaking the van’s windows, are out of danger. Meanwhile, the school’s owner and principal, Lakhwinder Singh, and the teacher-cum-van driver, Dalbir Singh, were sent to three-day police custody on Sunday. Both were arrested on Saturday evening hours after the tragedy.

The school management had purchased an old van from Patran in Patiala and it incident on the first day of its operation. Dr Sandeep Garg, SSP, Sangrur, said,”We will be finding out details as to whether the vehicle was remodelled, had proper documentation, its sale- purchase documents, year of make etc. to find out as whether it was fit to be run on roads or not. Primarily, it seems to be an old van, but records will determine the year of make. It is a Maruti van which is no longer being manufactured by the company and hence we need to study all the documents. We will also be studying the affiliation documents of the school.”

The private school that was being run out of nearly four rooms had 213 students on its rolls, said the investigators. Out of these 112 are in kindergarten, only 16 in the middle section and 85 studies between Class 1 to 5. So, primarily the school was catering to KG section only, the probe has indicated.

The bodies of the minor kids were cremated Sunday morning in Amar Singhwala amid heart-rending scenes.
Kulwant Singh, whose only child, Simranjeet Singh, was burnt alive said: “After hearing about the incident, I ran towards the site of the accident. I could understand without even looking inside the van that my only child was no more. He was wearing a cap and a patka. I recognised him from his burnt cap and patka. His face was beyond recognition.” Simranjeet had turned five on February 7.

About the condition of the van, he said: “The teacher (Dalbir Singh) used to take kids in his Alto car in the morning and send them back in a three-wheeler. We requested them for a covered vehicle. Saturday morning, the teacher took them in his car as usual and was bringing them back in their second hand van for the first time. We never saw the van beforehand. It caught fire just a few metres away from the school building.”

A sobbing Jagsir Singh recalled how the tragedy happened on his three-and-half-year-old daughter’s (Navjot Kaur) first day at school.
“She had gone to school for the first time Saturday. It was her first and last day,” he said. His son, Satguru Singh (5), was also in the same van, but escaped unhurt. Jagsir added,”Both my son and daughter were in the same van, but my daughter never came back. She had taken a new bag, bottle…..everything new on day one..I am not able to get over it.”

Kulwant and Jagsir said that no amount of compensation would bring their children back. “I don’t want any politics over my son’s death.. just want insaaf (justice),” said Kulwant.

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Gob 

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