Children unsafe aboard school bus yet who cares?

The Friday’s accident of a school bus in Navi Mumbai has once again brought to fore the ugly reality of how unsafe our children are when aboard a school bus. Just four months back a fire broke out in a school bus and claimed the life of six children and injured 22.
Following the mishap, the Navi Mumbai RTO called a meet of transporters and school authorities and described steps to be taken as safety measures. Unfortunately, neither bus contractors nor school authorities seem too interested in ensuring safety of children. Such careless attitude resulted in another major accident on Friday.
For the time being case has been registered against Delhi Public School driver Munna Parsi and bus contractor Santosh Shetty who is also a corporator, for using a vehicle without fitness certificate.
To ensure safety of employees or for the safety of their commuters, almost all transport companies scrap their buses. It may be shocking but it is true that the same scrapped buses are bought by contractors to be utilized as school buses. Sources reveal that the contractor has hundreds of such school buses running across Navi Mumbai.
At the same time, school authorities are also not blameless. They should regularly scrutinize the service being provided by their contractor/s. After all, it is the question of children’s safety. “Since each school has a PTA, it can also play a very relevant role in this regard by ensuring that the buses deployed by the school are roadworthy and properly-maintained,” suggests a concerned resident.
But as the cases of school bus accidents kept on happening in and around Navi Mumbai it is around one and a half years back the Maharashtra government set up a committee to implement the model school bus system worked out by civic activist Indirani Malkani and DCP Himanshu Roy in 2002.
Deputy RTO Bharat Kalaskar says, “Permits are not renewed, and also cancelled if the buses are found not observing the norms. Another provision added in the list of norms was that the bus should have an emergency door at the rear with a dimension of at least 1,200 mm in height and 540 mm in width. The door should have handles on both sides, inside and outside. The door should be placed at the centre of the rear end and should open on the right hand side. There should not be any seating arrangement near the emergency door”.
However, this important requirement of an emergency exit is also overlooked by bus owners and contractors.
A K Pandey, Secrtary, All India Federation of Parents and Teachers Association informs, “We have taken the issue seriously and are now in dialogue with governmental authorities”.
According to Pandey the problem parents face is that school managements take the plea that providing transportation is the responsibility of guardians. The school does not earn any income from transportation charges. On the other hand, parents do not know how to organize proper and safe transportation service and hence they have to stay quite and depend on whatever the school offers.

To ensure safety of children travelling on school buses a resolution was passed on August 23, 2006. It states 10 mandatory norms to be followed by bus owners and contractors:
o Buses should have the words ‘School Bus’ written on the front and rear.
o If they are contracted by a school, the words ‘On School Duty’ should be displayed.
o They should have a first-aid kit.
o A fire extinguisher should also be placed in every bus.
o Windows should have protective grills, not just a couple of bars.
o There should be space beneath seats to accommodate school bags.
o The name of the school and its telephone number should be mentioned on the bus, even if it’s only on a sticker.
o At no time should the number of students exceed the seating capacity of the bus. o The bus driver should have a minimum five years’ of driving experience.
o The driver should have no criminal record.

—Jaspal Singh Naol

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