Travelling to School

Travelling to School

Travelling to School [Illustration by Shinod AP]

Across the world, every morning school-going children get on a bus and head for school. A perfectly normal activity, you might say. Except that nowhere is the need for a safe transport system more evident than in India. With a burgeoning population of more than one billion, and few laws or regulations to keep children safe, accidents plague the country’s school transportation system.

The fact that many of these mishaps have occurred in the country’s capital city speaks volumes for the level of concern shown about this issue.

Come dawn, thousands of children tumble onto the roads and head for school. For short distance trips, a cycle or an auto rickshaw bursting at the seams with little children, their bags and bottles hanging outside is a common sight. On an average, eight to 10 children are packed inside an auto rickshaw and as many as 22 perched precariously in a cycle rickshaw.

According to a report on Delhi, in The Indian Express on August 7, “A cycle rickshaw driver can be challaned for a maximum of Rs 50 under section 28 of the Delhi Police Act. But most of them don’t even turn up and it’s difficult to trace them, as their addresses are mostly fictitious.” The report says that up to 2,000 fatalities involving school children occur annually in Delhi.

One of the worst cases of a school bus accident took place on November 19, 1998. A busload of more than 200 children fell into the Yamuna river at Wazirabad, in New Delhi. Two hundred children died in the accident.

The blame for such accidents often goes to the driver, for driving too fast. Overcrowding makes matters worse. In the Wazirabad accident, the bus was meant to seat not more than 80 children, but it was carrying more than 200 children.

Furthermore, drunken driving or speeding are rarely punished. Many of these drivers are not literate and are poorly paid. The vehicles too are not properly maintained by the owners.

The official inquiry into the Wazirabad accident as reported in The Hindustan Times strongly advised that school bus authorities should be made responsible for the mechanical condition of their buses, the training of their drivers and for the safety measures concerning the student passengers.

The government also expects the parents to ensure that their children travel in safe conditions. Similarly, school principals have been asked to ensure that students don’t use overcrowded vehicles.

Ultimately, parents need to come together to pressurise the school into opting for a safe transport solution. Only then will the situation change.

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