‘Exit was at least 9 ft above the ground’
Transport Department officials here believe that an emergency exit door in the Volvo bus that caught fire on October 30 near Mahabubnagar, could have saved the lives of the 45 passengers who died.
A Joint Commissioner of the Transport Department said: “Volvo had not installed emergency exit doors” between 2003 and 2006, as mandated then by Rule 128 (4) of the Central Motor Vehicle (CMV) Rules, 1989. The rule also provided for an emergency exit at the rear windscreen, which Volvo claims to have adhered to. But this exit was at least 9 ft above the ground from outside the bus making it impossible for passengers to jump out”.
He said: “It was only after 2006 that Volvo’s ‘emergency exits’ in the form of breakable windowpanes got legal sanctity when the CMV Rules were amended. Though the Karnataka Transport Department made Volvo install the third door between 2008 and 2010, the directive was withdrawn in 2011 after Volvo and KSRTC made a plea for the same.”
The department had made the emergency door mandatory after a ghastly accident involving two KSRTC buses — one Volvo and another ordinary — near Kolar on October 13, 2008, killing ten people, including nine travelling by the Volvo bus.
The then Transport and Road Safety Commissioner Bhaskar Rao issued two circulars, one on October 20, 2008 and another on July 28, 2010, making it mandatory that the emergency exit/doors be easily accessible to people of average height standing outside the bus.
This literally meant that Volvo had to install the third door since the emergency windows (located at a height of 6.9 ft on sides and 8.4 ft at the rear) were not accessible from outside.
These circulars, however, were rescinded by Mr. Rao’s successor on August 16, 2011, who directed regional transport officers to register Volvo buses without insisting on a third door.
In his earlier stint as Director (Security and Vigilance) of Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, Mr. Rao got the third door installed in the middle right of Volvo buses after a bus plying between Baroda and Ahmedabad in Gujarat caught fire after colliding with a fuel tanker killing all 45 occupants. He said: “Volvo, claiming to be following highest standards of passenger safety, should have been ahead of regulations and installed the emergency door to suit Indian conditions.”
The Andhra Pradesh transport department has attributed reckless driving and poor road condition as cause of the accident, saying lack of fire extinguishers, public address system and proper emergency exit mechanism inside the bus lead to the casualties. A team of Andhra Pradesh Joint Transport Commissioner will be submitting an inquiry report to its government on Monday.