Despite the city’s police’s increased vigil over private vehicles transporting schoolchildren, many drivers continue to transport students in overcrowded vans and autorickshaws.
The issue of student safety came to the fore after six-year-old S. Sruthi died after falling through a gaping hole in her school bus last month.
Residents of Kolathur and Kilpauk said that besides omni-vans, vehicles that are meant to be used as share-autorickshaws double up as school vans.
Aby Varghese, president of Senthil Nagar Youth and Residents’ Welfare Association, Kolathur, said several private school vehicles carrying children to neighbouring schools do not have assistants to supervise boarding and alighting . Students have to open or close the doors themselves.
“Most of these children are under 11. Some of the autorickshaws continue to carry about 15 children. Schools do not take responsibility for such vehicles so they go unchecked,” he said.
In Anna Nagar, private school van operators abided by safety norms prescribed by the police for a few days when checks were conducted regularly. But then, again, some began transporting children far beyond the number that is allowed for one vehicle.
Admitting that some of them flouted rules, S. Devan, a private school van driver, said it was difficult to follow the rules. “I would have to charge double the existing fee of Rs. 800-Rs.1,000 for the distance I cover to meet expenses,” he said.
Several parents claim that they cannot afford to pay more for school vans or buses. S. Gomathi, a domestic help in Mylapore said her employer pays her son’s school fees. “I cannot ask them to pay for the transport too. So I send my children in an autorickshaw as it is cheaper than the school’s transport,” she said.
J. Seshasayanam, general secretary of the Madras Metro Auto Drivers’ Association said they had decided not to take children over the age of 15 in their vehicles as it was easier to accommodate small children. “Also, we will carry only the permitted number of students. If a driver flouts the rules, the association will not help him,” he said.
At a meeting of the association, auto drivers said they would not be able to meet expenses if they carried fewer students. “We told them to speak to parents and charge extra. They should not play with the lives of children,” Mr. Seshasayanam added.
V.A. Ravikumar, joint commissioner of police (traffic – south) said the traffic police, along with the transport department has been conducting raids on all working days.
“On an average we check 150 autorickshaws every day,” he said.