A school building was gutted in a fire in Bandipora district of Kashmir, taking the number of schools damaged during the ongoing unrest in the Valley to 32, police said today.

"A fire broke out in an old building of Government High School (which housed a primary school) at Saidnara in Bandipora district last night," a police official said.

He said fire tenders were rushed to the spot but could not save the building from being destroyed.

Police said it has taken cognisance of the incident and started an investigation to ascertain the cause of the fire.

As many as 32 schools have been targeted by unknown persons since the unrest began in Kashmir on July 8 following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces.

With an increasing number of schools being burnt in the Valley triggering an outrage, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court today stepped in, directing police and civil administration to ensure their protection besides unmasking the "mysterious enemies of education" and deal with them with an "iron hand".

As various sections condemned such incidents, the state government pointed accusing fingers at separatists while the central government termed these as acts driven by the "combination of madness and perversion" and asked people of the Valley to realise that those responsible are acting at the behest of the enemy "across the border".


Minister Naeem Akhtar said, "burning of schools is one of the ploys to keep the fire burning (in Kashmir)... It is the same people who are promoting looting of banks, torching of shops and vehicles, stoning innocents, intimidation of citizens, who are responsible for burning the educational institutes."

Asserting that "no inquiry is needed to find out who is behind all this", he said, "It is those people who have created this tirade against education because they see it as a threat to their vested interests."

Akhtar said the separatists had mounted a tiger and are now trying hard to keep the conflict going.

Targeting Yasin Malik, the minister said in the initial phase, the JKLF chief and others were "at the forefront of driving the shutdowns, but now they have distanced themselves and thrown the ball solely in the court of (hardline Hurriyat Conference chairman) Syed Ali Shah Geelani."

Condemning the burning down of schools in Kashmir, state Congress chief GA Mir said it is an attack on the future of children and the culprits must be identified for sternest punishment.

The former Tourism Minister said it the inefficiency and incompetence of the State, which is not able to protect the infrastructure in the valley and secure the future of children from being getting ruined.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said the government is watching as a "mute and helpless spectator" to the burning of schools.

"The government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility of safeguarding the public education infrastructure in the state, and the safety of our schools, our teachers and our students has to be ensured at all costs," the former Chief Minister added.

In Delhi, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said, "This is nothing but a combination of madness and perversion. Otherwise, how can anybody think of setting fire to educational institutions which are importing education and knowledge to our own children."

Naidu said residents of Kashmir Valley should realise that these people have crossed all limits and are acting at the behest of enemies from across the border who are aiding, training and funding terrorists regularly.

"This is an extreme act they have (under)taken. I hope people will realise and also isolate them from rest of the society," he said.

The children of the state should not be deprived of peaceful studies, the senior minister said, adding, "they have already disturbed peace to some extent and they are now disturbing studies as well".

"Some of these leaders' children are studying outside; I am told. Some have to take security to write examinations. These so-called leaders should really ponder over what is it they are doing," Naidu added.