Less than two months after the accident involving a school van in Vedaranyam, which claimed the lives of nine children and a teacher, the death of 5-year-old girl Afrin in Alandur comes as yet another harsh reminder of the need for stringent safety measures for transportation of school children.

The scenes of inconsolable grief and simmering anger on Sowri Street, Alandur, when Afrin’s body was brought in an ambulance on Wednesday evening pointed to the impact that negligence on the part of some could have.

As news about the death of the girl spread, residents of Alandur gathered near the home of Abbas, father of Afrin. Mr. Abbas is a scrap iron merchant and was waiting to pick up his daughter, when the accident took place right in front of his eyes.

Relatives were in no mood to speak to the media and neighbours were angry as much with the government agencies as they were with the management of Unity Matriculation School, where the girl was studying. Police say M.Hanifa (67), the driver of the bus, who was arrested, was experienced and that his licence was due for renewal next month.

The bus belonged to the school and both its driver and cleaner were engaged by the school, according to St. Thomas Mount Traffic Police (Investigation).

Speaking to The Hindu, school authorities maintain all details had been given to the Traffic Police and that they do not wish to comment.

Private vans engaged by schools or parents are also common in the city. In addition to Matador vans, omni-vans and jeeps offer the service. The site at a school in Santhome on Wednesday evening revealed the patronage enjoyed by these vehicles, particularly in schools that do not ply their own vehicles. Even in schools that do, some parents opt for private services.

D. Anand, who sends his son to a school in East Tambaram in a private van, says he has no other option as the school vans did not cover their locality.

“Many are left at the mercy of the private chartered vehicles that do not follow the mandatory colour code or have a board indicating that school students are being transported. Often, there is no attender to help young children board the vehicles or ensure they got down safely,” Mr. Anand said.

Soon after the Vedaranyam accident, the State government has stepped up vigil and conducted vehicle checks to prevent vehicles while transporting students from overcrowding, says S. Junaid, Mr. Abbas’ neighbour.

A section of van drivers even went on a strike resisting this move. “But there are not too many checks these days,” says a private van driver, who operates between a school in Santhome and north Chennai. “Moreover, we find the police being lenient with school vans that are often overcrowded. They penalise the private vans alone.”

Guidelines to school heads and owners and crystal-clear instructions to owners, operators and crew of vehicles, alone could help prevent such accidents, parents observe.

In light of the accident, Transport Commissioner S.Machendranathan said that the department would soon issue a new set of guidelines to schools specifically with regard to children below 10 years of age.

“Issues like overcrowding continue to be a problem and parents must also take responsibility,” he says. “They must approach school authorities and force them to provide alternative arrangements instead of allowing their children to take packed vans.”

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