The problem persisting for years despite repeated representations to authorities, say people of Vijayaraghunathapuram
For most students of Vijayaraghunathapuram, hitchhiking to school is almost a routine as they have to contend with inadequate town bus services and unwilling mofussil bus crew every day.
The nearest school for the hamlet is a middle school at Kaikurichi and high school students have to go to Vallathirakottai or Pudukottai. Villagers complain that the town bus service to Vallathirakottai is grossly inadequate and State Transport Corporation buses skip the halt at Kaikurichi, seeing the group of students in uniform as they are free pass-holders. Even if the families are willing to pay for the commute, mofussil buses operated by State Transport Corporation and private operators do not halt at Kaikurichi.
“If only the buses halted at Kaikurichi, these boys would not be dead today. The few buses, which halt, move on quickly and very often students are unable to board the buses with their heavy school bags. Faced with the pressure of having to reach the schools on time, these boys have no other option but to solicit lifts on one vehicle or the other,” observed a sobbing Kokila, a relative of one of the school boys who died in the accident.
The problem, the villagers say, has been persisting for years despite repeated representations to the authorities. “Most of the buses skip the Kaikurichi stop and prefer to halt at the nearby colleges. School students could be seen seeking lifts from motorists passing by routinely. Whenever we represent the matter, the buses will halt at Kaikurichi for a couple of days but turn wayward soon,” says Suba Selvan, president, Kaikurichi Panchayat.
Amidst the mourning, Vijayaraghunathapuram residents were vocal in expressing their anger. “Lack of bus services is the bane of our village. All of us undergo a harrowing time every day. When I was in school I had travelled on footboard and continue to face the problem. At least a mini bus service should be introduced to our village after this tragedy,” observed Shobana, a first-generation graduate student from the village.
“There have been days when we run frantically behind buses to board them at the nearby college stop,” says Pandiselvi, who had just passed Plus-Two.
The villagers say there are just two town bus services to Vallathirakottai but they were not run to school timings. One reaches Kaikurichi at 7.30 a.m. and the other at 10 a.m. Some students catch the first one to reach school very early and could not possibly go by the other as they cannot reach the schools on time.
“We are just asking for bus facility for our school kids. After all, we toil hard for the sake of our kids. This tragedy would not have befallen our kith and kin if our kids had had safe transport to schools,” said a weeping Aliyayi.
However, officials seem oblivious to the problem. Stating that they have not received any complaints in this regard, a senior officer of the TNSTC, Pudukottai, however, said students from the village often tend to wait away from the Kakurichi bus stop. Mofussil bus crew have also been instructed to halt at the stop, he said, promising to depute field staff to monitor the situation from Thursday.
A motor vehicles inspector at the accident spot also claimed there have been no complaints, but said a meeting has been convened with bus operators at Pudukottai on Thursday to discuss the matter.
The school authorities too do not seem to be aware of the problem faced by the students.
“All of them were good students. They never turned up late for school. Some come by buses and others on bi-cycles,” said V. Arumaikannu, headmistress of Ramasamy Deivanai Ammal Higher Secondary School.
The school is well supported by donors, especially MGR Kazhagam leader R.M.Veerappan as Valathirakottai is his native place.
The school is named after his parents and has a reputation of offering good coaching, which spurs parents of neighbouring villages to admit their wards here.