The aam aadmi is well aware how agonising it is to argue with an autowallah. Now the administration is finding this out too. Even after state transport secretary Shailesh Kumar Sharma having asked them to refrain from doing so, rickshaw unions are firm on their stand that they’ll persist with their prevalent practice of carrying 8 to 10 school students in a single trip. The groups have proclaimed that they will oppose any action by Regional Transport Office (RTO) against them on the matter. If the numbers are reduced, parents will have to shell out more money, they have warned.
Rickshaw Panchayat had given a presentation to Sharma on Saturday at the RTO premises on how 10 primary students can safely travel in one auto rickshaw. Following the demonstration, Sharma had argued that the practice could cause discomfort to children. If the auto rickshaws are modified and the new design approved by institutions like Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), then only accommodation of more kids can be made safer and restful, he maintained.
“The officers should do away with their rigid attitude, otherwise parents and auto drivers will have to bear losses. The transport secretary has said that a final decision will be taken soon in Mumbai regarding accommodation of school childrenin autos,” said Nitin Pawar, convener of Rickshaw Panchayat.
“We will continue to ferry school children as our track record proves that autos are much safer than any other transport vehicle. If they (RTO) decide to initiate action against us, we will protest against it. If the ferrying capacity is reduced to four or five, it would be economically unfeasible for auto drivers, and parents will have to cough up more money,” he said.
Bapu Bhave, treasurer of Pune City Autorickshaw Federation said, “This issue was raised in state assembly on July 11, 1986, and subsequently autos were allowed to ferry 10 students. Thereafter in 1999, the then divisional commissioner had proposed to allow 10 kids in an auto. In 2002, the RTO had allowed children to be seated on a wooden plank apart from the main seat.”
“Even as per the law we can ferry a minimum of 6 children, including those under 12 years of age. We will continue to transport school children as before,” Bhave added. Prashant Inamdar, convener of Pedestrians First NGO, has also written a letter to state transport secretary Sharma and state transport commissioner VN More on August 1.
“With certain modifications, one additional folding seat can be provided behind driver’s seat. The main seat can accommodate up to 5 children and another 4 children can sit on the folding one. Suitable upgrade to safely increase rickshaw capacity for school children is in public interest,” he stated.
55,000 The number of auto rickshaws in Pune
“My girl goes to school in an auto rickshaw stuffed with 12 children. The driver charges around Rs 2,000 per month for dropping her to the institute in Kharadi. We realise that it’s risky, but have no other option available.”
—Deepak Laddha, a resident of Sopan Baug area
“Just like for school buses, safety norms for auto rickshaws transporting school children is also a must. It is important to avoid overcrowding and ensure safety and security of the kids.”
—Sheetal Sapkal, principal, Sinhgad Spring Dale School, Narhe-Ambegaon
“Younger children have supple bones, so it isn’t too much of a problem for them. But if the older ones travel in rickshaws in poor postures, they are likely to develop back problems.”
—Dr Sameer Desai, paediatric-orthopaedic surgeon, KEM Hospital