Herald: Students’ life at risk, authorities turn a blind eye

Students’ life at risk, authorities turn a blind eye

30 Jun 2019 05:29am IST

Report by
SHWETA KAMAT

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30 Jun 2019 05:29am IST

Report by
SHWETA KAMAT

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It’s no surprise to see private vehicles, recognised school buses being filled beyond the capacity. Though there are stricter norms for the school buses or vans, none of them are willing to abide by it and even the authorities don't seem to be bothered about. Even though, HERALD in its extensive campaign in September 2015, exposed the plight of children transported to school; four years down the line, the situation looks similar. SHWETA KAMAT finds out more

The beginning of the academic year has once against brought in the vicious practice of overloading the students in the school bus or van, putting their life at risk even as authorities turn a blind eye towards it. 

Amidst heavy rains, these vehicles and buses are overloaded with students; many at times giving us a visual of students standing up to the doorstep of vehicle, propelling a fear of mishap in the State. Though there are stricter norms for the school buses or vans, none of them are willing to abide by it and even the authorities don't seem to be bothered about. 

It’s no surprise to see private vehicles, recognised school buses being filled beyond the capacity. In the case of students from the primary section, Omni vans and rickshaws are loaded with as many of the fragile kids they can accommodate. 

Director Education, Nagaraj Honnikeri, said that the Education Dept has issued instructions to the schools to follow the ‘School Bus Rules guidelines’ set by the transport department. However, none of these schools have cracked down on the violators. 

What is striking is that none of the buses including those run by KTC have an attendant to monitor the situation. This makes the students themselves to do the needful. 

Usually, the students who are in the higher class are seen doing the job of an attendant, which puts their lives and that of fellow passengers’ at risk.

Parents are aware of these risk but most of them are left with no other option but to rely on this dangerous means of transport to send their children to school.

“The numbers of students’ are increasing in the city but the number of buses is not enough. No one can be blamed. We have no other option other than sending our children in these overloaded buses,” said Agnesh Naik, whose child is studying in one of the schools at Cujira.

While the bus services are registered with the govt, there are hundreds of private vehicles operating in plying the children. These vehicles carry children more than its capacity and in many instances are found to be driving in a rough manner. 

Though the rules are ignored by these private vehicles, parents still prefer their service over the buses. Parents say that the private operators pick up their children from their home and drop them back to the doorstep, which other school buses do not do. 

This doorstep service, allows them to work free of tension as they know that their children are being taken straight to home by the vehicle operators.  

"Buses don't drop children at the doorstep. They have their designated areas to drop the kids. And then the child has to walk. But in the case of private operators, they drop our children to the doorstep. Even in the morning, if the child is late, they wait," said Anuradha Kamat, a parent of 10-year old Shivam. 

Introduction of Bal Rath school buses by the State was supposed to take care of the requirement of ferrying school students. But the number of Bal Raths are not enough to accommodate the students who are increasingly depending on public transport to reach their school.

 As per the figures available, there are 385 Bal Raths and around 120 KTCL buses plying children and 500 private buses which are exclusively registered for transportation of students under commercial registration. 

Dy Director of Transport (North) Prakash Azavedo said that with the increasing number of buses been registered for transportation of students, there are very few private vehicles. Azavedo also claimed that the instances of vehicles overloaded with students are very few as the majority of students are accommodated in buses.  Admitting to the fact that private vans do not comply with the guidelines and majority of them are not registered with the department, Azavedo has urged PTAs  to take up the initiative and ensure that the vehicles ferrying their kids are registered with the govt.  

The concern of school buses and vans were expressed by some of the parents during the parents' teachers’ association meetings but the school management claim that the issue is not within their ambit.

 “I feel that these taxi operators should take up the work of school vans which will give them better earnings,” said Anwesha Pokle, another parent.

She said like the taxi service, the State govt should also introduce school bus service wherein the vans or buses would be tailor-made for the purpose of carrying students.

Requesting anonymity, a van operator said "I have been into the service of transporting children from the last 10 years. There is a trust I have developed between the parents, children and being a local from a particular area (St Andre), every parent wants me to take their child for which I cannot express a denial keeping in the bonding. And therefore which indirectly leads me to exceed the carrying capacity."  

The service is offered by private operators over the years have built trust between operators and parents of the children. 

Further, though the govt speaks about the safety of the children, the fact is that the majority of Bal Rath buses are not in good condition, especially in rural areas which are completely ignored. 

In September- November 2015 Herald had reported extensively on the operation of these overloaded vehicles/buses and the risks involved. 

The Bombay High Court took Suo Moto cognizance and had sought details from the government on the safety measures and guidelines it has put in place. 

Following the directions from the court, the transport department has begun to crack down on erring private operators, who then suspended their services, putting the public to a major hardship.
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