Delhi

The ‘dangers’ of going to school

Ticking bomb: Schoolchildren in east Delhi sit on a wood plank balanced on a CNG cylinder in a van.

Ticking bomb: Schoolchildren in east Delhi sit on a wood plank balanced on a CNG cylinder in a van.

A school van weaves in and out of traffic dangerously, as the 17 students packed inside count down the minutes till they reach home.

The van is meant to carry only seven children. Some students are forced to sit on each other’s laps while others squeeze themselves on a makeshift bench that has been crudely installed over a CNG cylinder in the boot.

Every sharp turn or sudden braking by the van driver elicits groans from the children as they get squeezed by their fellow passengers.

This is the harrowing journey that thousands of schoolchildren undertake every day across Delhi.

20 years later

In 1997, an overcrowded school bus fell off a bridge and into the Yamuna in Delhi’s Wazirabad. Twenty-eight children were killed in the incident. Following this, the Supreme Court laid out clear guidelines for operation of school transport. However, not much has changed almost 20 years later.

According to government data, Delhi has 2,468 school buses and around 500 vans. Officials, however, said the number could be much higher as many schools and private cab owners operate vehicles without permits.

Senior Transport Department officials said many of these vehicles lack fitness certificates and many legal vehicles flout traffic rules, putting the lives of children and people on the road at risk.

“We generally advise that vehicles plying for schools should get their fitness certificates renewed during school vacations. However, barely 10% of these vehicles applied for renewal this year,” said a senior Transport Department official.

‘43 killed daily’

A study by SaveLife Foundation and data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) revealed that nearly 43 children are killed in accidents daily in India. Road crashes kill six times more children than all crimes against them put together.

In fact, Delhi has the highest number of accidents, injuries and fatalities among all cities in the country.

“When I go to pick up my daughter from school, I can see how these van drivers put benches in the boot and make children sit on them. In my neighbourhood, I have also seen them leave the boot open. Children can fall off easily,” said Kavita Sinha, whose daughter studies in a convent school in south Delhi.

Many booked

Delhi Traffic Police officers said it is not just overloading. Many school transporters have been caught speeding, driving without a licence or using their phones while driving, they added.

Last year, the Delhi Traffic Police issued 1,160 challans to school buses and vans while the Transport Department challaned 157 buses and 162 vans, and impounded 46 vehicles.

“The increasing number of incidents involving deaths of children in road crashes reveals existing policy gaps with regard to road safety, especially the safety of vulnerable road users like children. At present, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, the sole legislation governing road safety in India, has no provisions to address the safety of children,” said Saji Cherian, director of operations at SaveLife Foundation.

Apathetic

When it comes to regulating school transport, the only guidelines are those that were issued by the Supreme Court 20 years ago.

“These guidelines are not strictly adhered to by school administrations and their non-adherence is not followed up with stringent punishment,” added. Mr. Cherian.

Another problem in India is the lackadaisical attitude towards road safety, even by the most well-meaning of parents.

A Transport Department official said while school authorities believe their responsibility ends once the students leave the premises, parents don’t take the time to verify the credentials of private transporters.

“Working parents do not have the time to pick up their children from school and often have no option but to depend on private vehicles. The haste to make money has become more important than the safety of children,” the official said.

However, many international and private schools in the city have taken hi-tech measures to provide safe school transport. Students are given bus swipe cards and the vehicles have GPS devices. The technology allows for messages to be sent to parents when their wards board or get off the bus.

Ajay Veer Yadav, the general secretary of the Government School Teachers' Association, said that safety is not supposed to be a luxury only for the rich.

‘Risking their lives’

“Just like there are safety norms inside schools, rules are needed for school transport as well. Rich parents can afford such fancy facilities for their children, but what about the thousands of students who study in government schools?” he said.

Mr. Yadav said that many students who take DTC buses to get home from school are especially at risk.

“Many bus drivers don’t even bring the vehicles to a complete halt for the children, who jump onto the moving bus as they are in a hurry to get home. This is extremely unsafe,” he added.


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Sep 23, 2022 6:57:22 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/the-dangers-of-going-to-school/article19247131.ece