Lately, every one seems to be keeping an eye on the way children are ferried to and from school. Children packed like sardines inside a four-wheeler or an auto is a common sight even though the school bus policy is in place. But yesterday, for what seems to be the first time, 30 school bus owners and drivers were caught and asked to pay heavy fines for illegally carrying children in vehicles that did not comply with the school bus policy.
These buses were caught while they were plying in areas like Andheri, Jogeshwari and Bandra. The Andheri Regional Transport Office (RTO) is cracking down on four-wheelers like SUVs, vans, buses as well as auto rickshaws that illegally transport school children. In the last couple of days, 15 vehicles were caught, leading to the prosecution of 24 drivers and permit holders. Fines worth Rs 3.42 lakh were collected from them. There are around 1,500 school buses plying in Mumbai.
Sources said that on January 10, the motor vehicles court in Andheri prosecuted 24 permit holders and drivers of vehicles ferrying children and levied penalties totting up to Rs 76,000. The remaining six of the 30 drivers caught will also be prosecuted soon. “We have already recovered Rs 13,000 in fines and Rs 2.53 lakh in taxes amount,” said an RTO official.
A departmental enquiry on the owners and their permits will follow and their Registration Certificate (RC) will be suspended so that the vehicles will not be used. The action comes as a big step towards ensuring the safety of school kids. “We will take strict action in the future too,” said Bharat Kalaskar, deputy RTO officer, Andheri. “Parents and schools should ensure that children aren’t transported in such illegal vehicles.”
The School Bus Policy Committee is also lauding the RTO’s efforts. “I am so glad that these illegal bus owners are being booked and authorities are taking action,” said Indrani Malkani, a member. While parents are heaving a sigh of relief, members of the School Bus Owners Association have taken offence.
They claim that these vehicles have been paying tax as required and, therefore, are allowed to take any passenger excluding those at bus stops. A couple of these buses were hired by schools to carry children for a field trip. “These buses have Mumbai region permits that have paid full tax and can ply.
The transport department is confused in handling the issue,” said Anil Garg, chairman, School Bus Owners Association (Mumbai). The members also claim that RTOs aren’t aware of the fact that school buses are allowed to drive at a speed of 50 kmph, and so keep pushing the drivers to drive at 40 kmph.
Features of the school bus safety policy
Each school should set up a transport committee headed by the principal and comprise of representatives of the parent-teacher association and an education inspector
School buses must be painted yellow and prominently display the words ‘School Bus’ on the front and the back
Private buses ferrying schoolchildren must have a 400mm yellow strip below the windows
Buses, other vehicles ferrying school kids in the city should not be over eight years old
Buses should carry a complete list of children onboard with their name, class, address, contact number, blood group and the stop near the child’s residence
Every school bus must have an attendant; buses carrying girls should have female attendants
If a pre-authorised person does not come to pick up a pre-primary student, the child should be taken back to school and parents must be called to fetch him/her
The bus should have a first-aid box and two fire extinguishers
It is mandatory for all schools and school bus owners to follow the School Bus Policy