Fire at Jorhat school triggers outrage across State; Around 6,000 answer scripts of eight subjects charred, re-examition for affected students this month; Education minister hints at sabotage
Jorhat/ Guwahati, March 4: In a State where question papers are easily leaked, anomalies in evaluation a regular phenomenon and answer scripts of board examitions devoured by cows --- comes another shocker.
Around 6,000 answer scripts of the ongoing High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) examition were charred to ashes in a fire at an evaluation center at Sankardev Semiry High school in Jorhat at around 6.30 am on Friday, triggering State-wide outrage among the student community and organizations who hit out at the Board of Secondary Education Assam (SEBA) for repeatedly playing ducks and drakes with the future of students.
Only recently, the Education department was under fire when the higher secondary Physics question paper was leaked and circulated in social media, prompting cancellation of the examition in that subject.
According to official sources, around 58,700 answer scripts were kept at the school's kul Chandra Bhuyan memorial library and 98 packets, which could contain around 6,000 answer scripts, were burnt down in the incident.
SEBA officials later said answer-scripts of as many as eight subjects - English, General Mathematics, Assamese (MIL), Hindi (elective), Sanskrit (elective), Advanced Mathematics (elective), Geography (elective) and Computer Science (elective) - were damaged in the incident.
The AGP, BJP and AIUDF besides student organizations, including the AASU, condemned the incident and sought a high-level probe.
The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained, but both Jorhat deputy commissioner Vishal Solanki and Education minister Sarat Borkotoky hinted that it could be due to sabotage.
"There is a conflict between the headmaster and some school staff. We suspect the incident could be a fall-out of this conflict," the Education minister said, adding that the number of chowkidars in each evaluation centre has been increased from one to two and CCTV cameras installed in each centre.
The Education minister, however, feigned ignorance about implementation of the recommendations given by a reforms committee constituted after the incident in Goalpara in which answer-scripts were eaten by cows.
The Jorhat DC said the evaluation room was locked and there was no sign of short-circuit.
"Prima facie it appears that someone lobbed something through the window or ventilator. That is why answer-scripts kept near the windows were affected more. Eighty per cent of answer-scripts are safe and have been shifted to a different location," Solanki said.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has meanwhile asked the Additiol Chief Secretary (Home) TY Das to initiate a CID probe into the incident. Gogoi also directed the Principal Secretary, Education, Paban Kumar Borthakur to submit a detailed report on the incident immediately.
The Jorhat district administration also launched a magistrate level inquiry by engaging an additiol district magistrate with a direction to submit the probe report within two/ three days.
SEBA secretary Kamal Jyoti Gogoi rushed to Jorhat and took stock of the situation there.
At Guwahati, top SEBA officials went into a huddle as protestors from various organizations, including the AASU, SFI and SMSS gheraoed the board headquarters and shouted slogans against the "laxity and indifference" of the officials.
Following a meeting, SEBA chairman D Mahanta informed the media that the board has decided to re-conduct the examition for the affected students within this month itself. Students not willing to reappear will be given the aggregate of the remaining subjects.
The HSLC examitions began on February 18. It will conclude on March 9.
Condemning the incident, AASU president Dipanka Kumar th said even if the examitions are held again, the results will have to be declared together and as per schedule.