Chitra V. Ramani
Parents send children in vehicles that hardly meet safety standards Vehicular traffic makes travel to school all the more taxing
Bangalore: There was this couple not too long ago that congratulated themselves on finding a convenient private van to transport their only child to school and back. One day, their son told them something about a hole on the floor of the van. They investigated it and to their horror, found a neat, rectangular hole, big enough for an adult to fall through, covered with a piece of loose hardboard. When confronted, the owner was cheerfully casual about it. Not waiting to find out why the hole was there in the first place, the couple withdrew the dubious facility and hired another van, no doubt with a tougher floorboard.
A couple of months ago, another parent, B. Srikanth (name changed) of R.T. Nagar, had to threaten the owner of a private vehicle that he would form an association of parents to ensure that the vehicle is maintained better. The vehicle was hardly better than a jalopy. The seat frames had not been welded to the floor. Whenever the driver applied brake, the children would fall over as the seats moved. Occasionally one door of the van would be fastened with a wire. And on one occasion, the door actually flung open while the vehicle was moving. Only providence saved the children from being thrown out into the moving traffic.
Many parents have no choice but to send their children in vehicles that hardly meet safety standards. "We cannot drop the children on our own because the school is some seven km away and we are busy," Mr. Srikanth said. With both parents working, the job of dropping and picking up children from school has been entrusted to strangers. While some may be open to the idea, a few parents would still prefer to send their children to school with someone they know and trust.
Bhageerathi J., a software professional, said when it was time for her daughter Gauthami to go to school, both she and her husband decided to send her to a neighbourhood institution. "I did not want my child to travel in bus or autorickshaw with strangers. Her school is within walking distance from our home. She is young now, so we drop her in the morning. In the evening, her grandmother picks her up. When she grows older, she can walk to school and back home by herself," she said. All are not lucky. Many parents either do not find a good school in their neighbourhood or do not get seats in the schools they want. Thus, they are forced to send them to schools that are far off. When children her age in more enlightened societies go to neighbourhood schools, Pragna Mohan (9) has to commute some seven km to reach hers by 9 a.m. Pragna has to leave home at around 8.15 a.m.
With Bangalore's sprawl expanding by the day, there is a lot of vehicular traffic, which makes travel to school all the more taxing.
The civic authorities and the traffic police banned private vehicles dropping children in a 200 m radius of a few schools located on the arterial roads in the city to ensure that there are no bottlenecks near schools. Also, as part of the "Safe Road to School" scheme (under which schools hire BMTC buses for transporting their students), parking of private vehicles near the schools was also prohibited.
Whether the scheme really helped ensure smooth traffic on the busy roads near the schools is anyone's guess. When it was introduced, parents were up in arms and said that safety of their children would be compromised by this move. They felt that it was unfair to suggest that parents and schools adopt a particular mode of transport.
However, this has not stopped parents sending their children to schools miles away from their homes in public transport or hired autorickshaws and vans. This has turned out to a good business proposition for many autorickshaw and van drivers, though they cram the small vehicles with dozens of children. Not all are complaining though. Shekhar Gupta, a businessman, whose daughter's school is two km away, says she goes in a van and is happy about the vehicle and the transporter.
For a while now, experts have been urging the Government to direct schools to give priority to children living within the three-km radius of the school during admissions. But as a principal of a well-known school points out the quality of education has to be improved in all schools. "Children have the right to education. They should have access to schools of their choice."