Success of new rules hinges on vigilant parents who must demand their rights as enunciated under special rules
After two months of summer break, 889 school buses in the city would once again start making their presence felt on the city roads from next month. But hopefully this time, they will be better regulated owing to implementation of the Tamil Nadu Motor Vehicles (Regulation and Control of School Buses) Special Rules notified on September 30.
Officials of the transport and education departments state that they will do their best to implement the rules in letter and spirit. Nevertheless, they add that the success of the new rules will hinge on vigilant parents who must demand their rights as enunciated under the special rules and also bring violations to the notice of the officers concerned.
The special rules were framed at the instance of the Madras High Court which took suo motu notice of the death of six-year-old S.Sruthi who got crushed under the rear wheel of her school bus after falling through a hole on the floor of the vehicle in Chennai on July 24, 2012. The special rules contain comprehensive guidelines to be followed by schools, parents, drivers, attendants and government officials.
As per the rules, the buses should be registered in the name of the school and not in the name of a Trust or Society managing the institution.
A transport permit granted to a school bus will be normally valid for a period of five years and it would cease to be effective unless the approval or recognition of the school was renewed periodically through the Education Department.
Regional Transport Officer (Madurai Central) K.Kalyanakumar says drivers of school buses should have valid driving licences and a minimum of five years of experience in driving similar category of vehicles. They should wear khaki uniform on duty and display on the left chest pocket a white plastic plate containing their name, badge number and the district where it was issued.
They should not have been punished more than twice in a year for offences such as jumping red light at traffic signals, violation of lane discipline or allowing unauthorised person to drive. They must not have been punished not even once for offences such as over- speeding, drunken driving and reckless driving that resulted in a fatal accident. They must maintain a log book and rectify the defects in the vehicle on a day-to-day basis.
Once a year, the drivers should undergo eye test and driving skill test before the School Level Transport Committee (SLTC), to be constituted in every school under the chairmanship of the Principal. A local Sub-Inspector of Police, an Education Department official, a Motor Vehicle Inspector and a representative of the Parent-Teacher Association shall be its members.
Every school bus should also have an attendant possessing a valid conductor licence issued by the Regional Transport Office. The attendant should not be less than 21 years of age and more than 50 years. He or she should be medially fit to get down from the bus at each stopping point to facilitate the children get in or get out of the vehicle and hand them over to their parents.
The buses should be of semi-saloon type with steel body and no vehicle should be covered with canvass hood. They should be painted fully in yellow colour without any stripes. The words ‘School Bus’ should be painted in the front and rear top of the vehicle in bold and clearly visible letters. They should be printed on the sides in a circular format with a picture of school children in the middle.
Name, address and contact phone number of the school should be painted on the left rear side of the bus.
The rear right side should contain the contact phone number of the transport officer in-charge of the school, local Regional Transport Officer and the police authority.
Every school should create a separate e-mail ID and display it in the bus for registering complaints.
According to RTO (South) K.Natarajan, there should be only one entrance-cum-exit in a school bus. It must definitely have a door and railings on both sides of the footboard. The first step of the footboard should be at a height not exceeding 300 millimetres from the ground and all steps should be fitted with non-slip treads. The driver’s cabin should also be separated by a grilled partition.
Racks for keeping school bags should be provided under the seats and not close to the roof. If a part of the floor board weakens or caves in, they should not be rectified with a patch work. Instead, the entire stretch of the floor board should be replaced with a new one. Every window of a school bus should be 3,850 square centimetres in size and contain horizontal steel bars with a gap of 5 centimetres between them.
The vehicles must be fitted with speed controlling devices in order to ensure that they are not driven above 40 kilometres per hour within Corporation limits and 50 kilometres in other areas. A fire extinguisher with a capacity of two kilograms, reflecting tapes on the exterior, a first-aid box and an emergency exit at the rear right side or at the rear windscreen are the other mandatory requirements.
The 18,000 square centimetre emergency exit should be in the form of a frame fixed with a toughened glass or in the form of a door with the same dimension hinged at the top and capable of being operated both from inside and outside the bus. The words ‘Emergency Exit’ must be prominently inscribed in red colour on a white background both inside and outside.
Welcoming the new rules, M.Lenin, father of two school children, said strict adherence to them would increase patronage for school buses and discourage parents from sending their children to school in overcrowded private vehicles such as vans and auto rickshaws. “The transport authorities must also crack down on private vehicles and regularise them,” he added.
On the other hand, office-bearer of an association of private schools said that the new rules would only force schools to reduce the number of buses operated by them to avoid unnecessary trouble. Seeking anonymity, he said many school buses had not yet been granted Fitness Certificate by the RTOs concerned by citing one reason or the other even as the academic year was fast approaching.
“It is practically not possible to appoint bus attendants only from among those possessing a conductor’s licence because such licensees are very few and they are issued only to people who have passed Standard X examinations. It is also absurd on the part of RTOs to insist that even the picture of school children printed on the bus should be of Tamilians and not foreigners,” he complained.
He also pointed out that school buses fell under three different categories: below 7,500 kilogram, those between 7,500 and 12,500 kilogram and others that were above 12,500 kilogram. “The requirement of an 18,000 square centimetre emergency exit on a mini bus weighing below 7,500 kilogram is just impossible,” he added.
Asked for his reaction, Mr.Natarajan said officers of his department were duty bound to follow statutory rules.
Pursuant to notification of new rules, fitness certificates could be issued only after inspection by a special cell comprising Zonal Joint Transport Commissioner or Deputy Transport Commissioner, RTO concerned, RTO (enforcement wing) and two Motor Vehicle Inspectors.
School buses should be produced before the special cell every three months to obtain roadworthiness certificates.
Further, the schools should form exclusive Parent-Teacher Associations headed by the Principal or Headmaster in order to enable parents to lodge complaints. The associations should meet once a month and the minutes of the meeting must be forwarded to the SLTC.
The SLTC, in turn, should send a report to the District-Level Inter-Departmental Committee (DLIDC) to be constituted under the chairmanship of the Revenue Divisional Officer.
An RTO, a Deputy Superintendent of Police and Chief Educational Officer would be the members of DLDIC which should meet once in three months to evolve an action plan to conduct inspection of school buses.
Mr.Kalyanakumar said all school buses would be ordered to be brought to the Armed Reserve Ground next week for a mass inspection. “Our prime concern is the safety of the children travelling in school buses. School managements are duty bound to follow the norms, especially when bus service is provided for a hefty fee. We shall make sure that the rules are followed thoroughly.”