Just a day after the Bombay High Court declined to grant a stay, the school bus policy came into effect across the state from September 1 2012.
There are about 60,000 school buses running in Maharashtra that includes around 450 in Nagpur itself, which would come under the territory of the new policy. The parents and principals have demanded that the buses have to be made safer because the state itself had witnessed a number of accidents in the past years due to negligence and ignorance that resulted in the loss of many lives only due to the lack of proper amenities made available by the state. These request made by the parents and principals have been long pending but no result has come from this request.
However, due to casual approach of the regional transport authority, the school bus policy implementation remained a non-starter for quite some time in Nagpur. Of all the schools present in Nagpur city none of them took the initiative to obtain bus safety compliance from RTO. Of the 450 buses ferrying school children to various parts of the city, only four have been fitted with new speed authority.
Traffic activists and parents have expressed concern over apathetic attitude of the transport department towards their concern. Traffic activist and lawyer Tushar Mandlekar said the safety of a child should be important and should be taken by RTO as their main priority. In fact, the transport department had been formed to ensure proper implementation of road safety norms but they seem not to follow their duties well. But it has been reduced to a tax collection agency, he said.
He ridiculed the government’s decision giving five years extension to life of school buses from 15 to 20 years. He pointed out that life of any transport bus is merely eight years. For school buses, it is 20. Is the government serious about safety of schoolchildren travelling in old buses or that the government is just wanting to play with the lives of these children who are supposed to be the torchbearers for the future, he asked.
Homemaker and mother of a seven-year-old child Sanjana was critical at RTO’s easygoing attitude. “It seems that neither the RTO nor the bus owners are interested in implementing this policy which is important for the safety of children. I am tired of telling the school authorities but they are handicapped as every request sent to transport authorities falls on deaf ears. The sole purpose of the school bus policy was to get rid of private vehicles and auto rickshaws from ferrying school kids,” she said.
Parents are hopeful that speed regulations will be installed in all buses soon. “This topic has been discussed for many years and the policy has not yet been implemented. Why is RTO taking so long when it is about safety of our children,” asked Sunita Jambhale, another parent. They seem to be having fun all the years on she added futher.
S M Joshi, director of J K Education Society which runs Modern Schools, ridiculed the way the transport department is behaving in imposing school bus safety policy. He claimed that buses dropping the children of Modern School have already been provided with sufficient safety measures besides trained drivers, conductors and first aid boxes. “In fact, there is no transparency in the policy,” he alleged, adding “we have not received any safety guidelines from RTO.”
Transport secretary Shailesh Sharma clarified that the safety policy for entire state is the same. Barring the lifespan of a school bus, which is 15 years in Mumbai while 20 in the entire state, every term and condition of the policy is the same, he said. Sharma claimed that directives have been issued to all the RTOs in the state to ensure that only those buses following safety policy be allowed to drop schoolchildren.
President of School Bus Operators Association Santosh Jog pointed out that changes were made at least three times in safety policy till date. “Our association in Mumbai had approached the high court and the final hearing will take place on September 4. So we are waiting for the HC ruling.” But he admitted that none of the buses ferrying schoolchildren had obtained compliances from RTO. This entire topic just keeps on taking turn but no result comes out of this.
RTO S Shelke said the department has some limitations. “Due to staff crunch we could not implement the policy now,” he said. The department are concerned over school children’s safety and “we won’t spare any defaulters,” he added.