Over 350 buses and vans operated by private schools in Cuddalore and Villupuram districts were off the road on Monday as the crew abstained from duty protesting the “harsh rules” imposed by the State government on vehicle design and maintenance. As the school buses were not in operation, a large number of students hailing from far off places found it difficult to commute to school. The students had to choose alternative mode of transport, such as autorickshaws, contract carriages and mofussil buses.
The schools buses were seen parked in the sheds and were never taken out. Regional Transport Officer M. Jeyasankaran told The-Hindu that following certain mishaps involving school buses, the government had passed a set of new rules to ensure the safety of students.
It had stipulated that the schools should engage drivers having experience of five years and above, and that each of the buses should have an attendant who holds a conductor’s licence. Speed governor must be fixed on the buses and there should be provision for an emergency exit. All the schools had been instructed to form ‘school transport committees’ consisting of the parents of those students who are availing of the bus services. The committee ought to meet once every month to ascertain the condition of the school buses and vans, and to suggest measures to remove the shortcomings.
Mr. Jeyasankaran further said that during the intensive checking done on all school vehicles, certain lapses came to light, such as lack of fire extinguishers, first-aid boxes without any prescribed medicines, or medicines well past the expiry dates, and over-speeding of the buses.
In the past couple of months, about 60 to 70 school vehicles were detained for not conforming to the norms. Only after the remedial measures duly taken by the school management concerned, the vehicles were released.
C.R. Lakshmikandan, president of the Cuddalore District Matriculation Schools and Matriculation Higher Secondary Schools Managements’ Association, told this correspondent that there were no two opinions about ensuring the safety of students. However, he faulted the “harsh safety measures, as these would require total re-designing of the vehicles which could not be immediately possible”. Without giving adequate time to bring about the required changes, the officials were going ahead with impounding the vehicles and imposing fines.
The proposed emergency exit in school vehicles would endanger rather than protect the students, because it should have easy latches, both inside and outside. It was hard to find attendants holding conductor licences, and if one were to find such persons, they would be demanding hefty salary which the school managements could ill-afford. If a grilled cabin was to be constructed for the driver, as stipulated, he would not be in a position to help the students during exigencies. The quarterly inspection of the vehicles would also paralyse the transport services of schools.
The Association was of the view that the government should have taken the managements into confidence before enforcing the rules, Mr. Lakshmikandan said. However, K. Ramamurthy, a parent of a student, was all supportive of the government measures because, in his opinion, safety should precede any other considerations.