Headmasters say it is not possible to monitor students outside; more buses needed to curb practice
For S. Preeti, who takes two buses from her home in Nerkundram to get to her school in Egmore, watching people hang precariously from an overcrowded bus is routine.
“Since I board the bus at the Koyambedu terminus, I get place to sit. As more people board along the way, many travel on the footboard. It is very common,” she said, casually. “Who does not know that it is dangerous,” she shrugged.
Last week, the Madras High Court said that if students who travel by footboard do not pay heed to repeated warnings by traffic police, parents, and the head of the educational institution they study in, institutions can expel the students after giving a notice to the parents.
This came after the horrific accident on December 10, in which four young students on a bus footboard were crushed to death by a lorry.
Headmasters of schools which have students travelling by buses, however, observe that though this may instil some fear in the minds of students, there are practical difficulties in implementing the proposal if it comes into force.
The problem, they say, is not just about young boys riding on the footboard in an attempt to seem macho, but also about overcrowded buses. The headmaster of a school run by the Chennai Corporation in north Chennai recalls how he had put up a poster in his school that said: ‘Your parents are waiting for you at home. Do not travel by footboard’.
“We repeatedly talk to students about the perils of travelling by footboard,” he said. But, there is only so much ‘creating awareness’ can do. The problem in north Chennai, he observed is peculiar because, over the past eight years the enrolment of students in schools has risen, whereas there has been no increase in bus services.
“There must be sufficient buses for students, and they must have functioning doors which can be closed. Because, outside the school, we cannot keep a tab on the students,” he said.
Shaheen Begum, a student who boards 27B (Anna Square to CMBT), however, has a different take on the matter. She said that closing the doors on them is not the solution, and that the number of services must be increased.
“When the bus is crowded in the morning, the conductor sometimes opens only one door, and halts some distance away from the bus stop. We either run and catch the bus, or wait for the next bus which comes fifteen minutes later, and is almost as crowded,” she said angrily, adding that that there were at least three schools which fall within the bus route.
J. Balaji, whose school is in Purasawalkam, smiled sheepishly when asked about how often he travels on the footboard. “I used to, earlier, but my parents were extremely worried, so I stopped. But, several of my friends still hang on to the footboard when they run and catch a bus despite repeated warnings from the conductor, just for fun,” he confesses. He felt, that the fear that they may be suspended from school, may force them inside the bus for a while, but not for long.
A. Kavya and her friend Bhagyalakshmi, class XI students, too agree. According to them, both their brothers, one younger and another elder, travel on the footboard, while the girls stand inside. “Our parents have warned them repeatedly, but they don’t listen. They then show off to us,” said Kavya.
The headmaster of another Corporation-run school in Perambur, points to a vicious circle that he says, must be broken through strict enforcement, and change, not just awareness at an individual level. “Just a few days ago, I saw college students hanging on a footboard. The problem is long-standing, and cannot be solved overnight,” he said.
The issue, school heads and students say, is about inadequate bus services.