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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

‘School bus strikes a safety risk’

Principals, Activists Slam Repeated Agitations By Vehicle Operators


The long-drawn debate and discussions over the School Bus Safety Policy as well as periodic calls for strike by school bus owners have put both schools and the government in a spot. The latest, indefinite state-wide strike call has come from the School Bus Owners' Association; buses may go off the roads from February 6. While schools are unhappy about such strike calls every few months, government officials are concerned over questions being raised on norms introduced under the safety policy. 
    "The government needs to ensure that once the policy is implemented, no problems will crop up from any of the involved departments. This policy is of prime importance to us and we will ensure everything to see to it that our children are safe," said a transport official on the condition of anonymity. School principals and activi
sts are showing their concern over the attitude of bus operators as well as government officials towards the policy. Several schools pointed out that because of repeated bus strikes, safety of children while travelling to and from school is falling on the shoulders of school managements and parents, and that this can't go on for long. "Not only is the government not taking the policy seriously, but also putting extra pressure on schools. A school bus committee needs to be formed in every school and RTO and police officials as well as officials from the education department must be part of this committee. I have been personally calling officials for the purpose but nobody seems to be interested," said the principal of a suburban school. Several also pointed to the recent controversy where the principal of a Nerul-based school was roughed up by members of a political party over bus safety issues. "Increasingly, schools are being targeted for lack of determination from the side of bus owners," said Lalitha Hariharan, principal of Rizvi Springfield School, Bandra. 
    Even though bus safety rules have been implemented only recently by the state government, a clutch of city schools have had these norms in place for the past 10 years now. "Not one rule under the safety policy is the figment of somebody's imagination; each and every word there either adheres to the already-implemented policy or Supreme Court orders. What are bus operators complaining about now?" asked Indrani Malkani, a civic activist. Education officials, though, remained unavailable for comment. 
    On Tuesday, the transport department got in touch with members of the School Bus Owners' Association (SBOA) and has now called for a meeting on Wednesday. "We hope this meeting also doesn't just end up as a discussion with no solution at hand. Our demands are not very grave; we are only asking for minor changes in the regulations so that we don't end up taking a financial burden," said Anil Garg, president of SBOA. 

Times View 
Every side in this debate may have some logic in their argument. But we must remember that the most important issue here is a safe journey for our kids to and from school; there cannot be any compromise on that. School bus owners may have a point when they criticize the lack of response from the government and the lack of transparency in how it works. But the point they want to make should be made in some way other than inconveniencing thousands of school-goers and their parents. POLICY VERSUS OPERATORS THE SCHOOL BUS SAFETY POLICY MAKES IT COMPULSORY FOR EVERY SCHOOL BUS TO HAVE: Two fire extinguishers (one in the front and one at the back of the bus) | But bus owners have demanded that one fire extinguisher is enough The lowest footstep in the bus should be at a height not exceeding 220 mm from the ground | But bus owners say that every time a bus crosses a speed breaker, this footstep could scrape against the road The driver should have at least five years of experience | But bus owners say that this rule is getting difficult to adhere to because of manpower shortage Buses should not be more than 15 years old | But bus owners claim that as long as buses are in a good condition, they should be allowed to ply School buses must provide bag racks under the seats for students and also be equipped with vertical stanchions | But most bus owners claim this is unnecessary and will only end up adding to the maintenance cost Basics that have still not been implemented: 
l All school buses need to bring their lowest footstep to 220 mm above ground 
l Most buses are still not equipped with first-aid boxes 
l School buses ferrying girls should have a female attendant, but parents complain that some school buses are flouting this rule 
l School buses should have horizontal rods on the windows from the outside, but is yet to be implemented in several buses
l Speed governors should be fitted in every vehicle so that the speed does not exceed 40 km per hour, but most buses haven't adhered to this as yet 
Previous Strikes 
June 6, 2011: The School Bus Owners' Association called for a strike after the transport and education department uploaded the school bus policy as a government resolution (GR) on the government website. Bus owners were not happy with the norms and conditions 

December 20, 2011: Bus owners called for a strike citing harassment at the hands of RTO officials who were fining school buses for violating safety norms. The strike lasted a day and bus owners across Maharashtra had joined in the stir 

January 2, 2012: A strike was called after the transport department refused to acknowledge the bus operators' demands. However, it was called off after the transport officials met with members of SBOA 

V O I C E S 
Close to 80% schools still don't have a school bus committee. Most schools have not received any circular from the education department about the safety norms and parents complain that managements do not shoulder responsibilities. Departments must work in tandem to make the policy work 
Arundhati Chavan | PRESIDENT, PTA UNITED FORUM 
We are being taken for granted every time. If we can agree to adhere to the rules prescribed to us as per the transport department, why can't some of our demands be acknowledged? The transport department needs to take this problem seriously 
Anil Garg | PRESIDENT, SCHOOL BUS OWNERS' ASSOCIATION 
We are taking time to ensure that once the school bus safety policy is implemented, there's absolutely no questioning its authority. We need to look at problems from every department before the policy is implemented and once that falls in place, schools as well as bus owners will have to follow the norms 
An official from the transport dept 

School bus owners, government officials as well parents are busy shirking off their responsibility and schools always get stuck in the middle. We all concerned about the safety of our children but nobody is doing anything to keep our children safe. There needs to an amicable decision that all departments need to come forward and work towards 
Lalitha Hariharan | PRINCIPAL, RIZVI SPRINGFIELD HIGH SCHOOL, BANDRA



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