Shanthi Biju had a sense of foreboding the moment her son Alan, a plus one student of Baselios Vidyanikethan Senior Secondary School of Vettickal near Mulanthuruthy, Kerala, left for a trip to Ooty from the school on Wednesday evening.
She rung her son thrice shortly after the bus had left the school. As she couldn’t get through, she tried an accompanying teacher’s number also in futile. Eventually she managed to get her son’s friend Sreeraj on the line and it only heightened her anxiety when the boy said that the driver was over speeding.
“I stayed up late into night before I dozed off at some point only to be waken up by a call informing about the accident. Fortunately, Alan escaped unhurt,” said Ms. Biju.
The tourist bus carrying 42 students from classes 10, 11 and 12, along with five teachers had departed the school campus on Wednesday around 7 p.m., nearly two hours behind the original departure time. The delay was attributed to a delayed return of the bus from a previous trip to Velankanni. En route Ooty, the bus rammed into a KSRTC bus along the Vadakkencherry-Palakkad National Highway leaving nine, including five students and a teacher, dead and many more injured around midnight.
“I had found the driver really tired and exhausted, prompting me to ask him to be careful with his driving. But he reassured that he was an experienced driver and will drive safely. Besides, I was also told that there were two drivers,” said Ms. Biju.
School authorities irresponsible
It has now emerged that the school authorities had failed to inform the Motor Vehicle Department about the contract carriage booked for the trip as per a circular issued by the education department. Tripunithura Sub RTO officials visited the school on Thursday morning to verify whether the school had done so with any other office though they fell under their limits.
“When school authorities inform us, we inspect the bus and ensure that it had no unauthorised lights and high decibel sound system. If the bus belongs to the limits of another RTO then we alert them. In this case, we didn’t receive any intimation from the school authorities. We will submit a report to the education department,” said Yousuf T.P, Tripunithura Joint RTO. The bus was registered within Kottayam RTO limits.
Speed governor tampered or missing
The fact that the bus was found speeding beyond 97 km per hour meant that the speed governor was either missing or tampered with. “Contract carriages are allowed a maximum speed of 70 km per hour on four lane roads and 60 km per hour on all other roads,” said Mr. Yousuf.
It had also emerged that MVD had booked the bus for five offences, including for using excessive lights and air horn, in the past. In fact, a video captured by a parent showed the bus leaving the school campus with lit up in excessively bright illuminations within and outside and by honking the air horn incessantly.
Meanwhile, arrangements have been made at the school for placing the bodies of the students and the teacher for the public to pay homage before being taken to their respective homes. “Bodies will be brought here from the hospitals in Palakkad and Alathur in a convoy of ambulances with police escort around 1.30 p.m. All the victims are from the neighbouring panchayats of Thiruvaniyur, Mulanthuruthy and Udayamperoor,” said Eldho Tom Paul, district panchayat member, Mulanthuruthy.