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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

RTO clears air on bus policy norms, schools still sceptical

Parents Want Schools & Bus Contractors To Share Onus

Aseries of RTO workshops held for school principals across the city has finally acquainted many of them with the nuances of the school bus safety policy. But though transport officials have told schools they won't be held responsible for any incidents concerning school buses if they follow all guidelines outlined in the policy, principals are wary. 

    "Even in the recent incident of a four-year-old being molested on a school bus, the school was dragged into the case even though it had ensured that all safety measures were in place. The tall claims of the transport officials will make no sense when something goes wrong on the bus, even though it might be a third party's fault," said the principal of a Navi Mumbai school. Most principals have agreed to follow the rules but are not sure of the co-operation from the school bus contractors. 
    However, Arundhati Chavan, president of the PTA United Forum, said schools and contractors should be made equally liable for children's safety. "Schools should not be given reasons to shirk responsibility, as bus contractors can't be trusted. Parents need one point of contact in case of untoward incidents, and schools are who they can trust. We need to find a way in which no party 
involved takes children's lives for granted," said Chavan. 
    Activist Indrani Malkani, who intervened in a case at the Bombay high court on the school bus policy's implementation, said, "Recent circulars made major changes to original rules, changing the bus policy's meaning altogether. I raised objections to these changes," she said. Malkani 
mentioned a government resolution which says in vans and private vehicles with a seating capacity of 12 and below, the driver will act as attendant. "So if the vehicle is ferrying girls, they have to be at the mercy of a male driver?" said Malkani. Another notification dated June 25, 2012, said an auto can be considered a school bus (in areas outside Mumbai), which Malkani said, "defeats the purpose of having a school bus policy". The matter is still in court. 
    Meanwhile, the School Bus Owners' Association (SBOA) claimed on Tuesday evening that a central government directive states school buses don't have to install speed governors. "This directive has also been sent to state officials, who in turn will inform local RTOs. 
We have finally won our argument," said Anil Garg, SBOA president. However, statetransport commissioner V N More denied any such directive. "We have not received any such directive. These are rumours. Our rule is clear, school buses either need the speed governors (40-50 kmph) or Electronic Control Units which have been fitted in new buses," said More. A SAFER RIDE TO SCHOOL AND BACK 
Panel | Each 
    school should 
    have a School 
    Bus Committee 
    to ensure safe transport of students. The panel, headed by the principal, will include a representative from parents, traffic police inspector of the area or police inspector, motor vehicle inspector or assistant motor vehicle inspector, education inspector and a representative of the bus contractor 
Contract | Schools should sign contracts with bus operators 
Contacts | Every bus (driver) should carry a list of student's names travelling daily by the vehicle mentioning class, address, telephone numbers, blood group and bus stop number/name 
Permit | A bus shouldn't be more than eight years old; should have a valid RTO permit to ply as a school bus; the permit must have the school's name 
Speed Governor | Speed governors are mandatory in every school bus 
Driver & Attendant | Drivers should have five years' experience. Each bus must have a woman attendant if there are girl students on board 
Colour | Buses exclusively used to 
ferry kids should be yellow, with the school's name in a brown band 
Facilities | Maximum 300mm ground clearance for first step; iron rod to hold while alighting or boarding; four iron grilles on windows installed with a 5-cm gap; a first-aid kit and fi re extinguishers (2kg in 12-seaters, 5kg in 12-20 seaters, two 5kg extinguishers in other buses) 
Warning Signs | Every bus should show a "warning sign" when it halts for kids to board or alight 

RTO Permit | If you directly approach a bus operator, ask for a copy of the special RTO permit to run school buses. Many operators simply carry a contract carriage permit 
Bonafi des | If the bus has an agreement with the school, ask the school if the antecedents of drivers and conductors have been checked 
Complain | If you learn the bus is illegal or the driver/conductor's conduct is improper, complain to the school or to the local RTO 

RTO Action | If 
    the principal/ 
    bus operator flouts the policy norms, they can be prosecuted under the Motor Vehicles Act. The RTO can impose fi nes, suspend permits or confi scate vehicles 
Police Action | If incidents like accidents/sexual assault occur despite schools and operators observing all guidelines, the blame will be on the culprit and it will 
    be purely a 
    police case


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