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Is your BEST bus safe from a fire?

Probably not as several of the CNG buses plying the city's roads do not carry the required fire extinguishers. Officials claim that they are absent from a few buses due to an ongoing revamp; while others admit that it is an issue

It may be affordable, but a ride on the city's Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) buses certainly isn't the safest. Although the BEST administration had decided to install fire extinguishers in every bus, starting with those running on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a year ago, several of the red-coloured buses in the city's fleet are missing the cylinders.


Fire extinguishers (circled above) are supposed to be present in all CNG
buses in the BEST fleet, as can be seen in this bus . PIC/ Maleeva Rebello


The apathy of the administration is shocking, given that incidences of BEST buses bursting into flames are not all that rare. Only on September 22, a CNG Midi-bus caught fire and was left charred at Cuffe Parade. Earlier, in January, two CNG buses caught fire in two separate incidents.

The BEST operates 2,985 CNG buses of their total 4700-odd fleet, which is a substantial number. Of the CNG buses, 2,213 are single-decker ones, 488 are Midi buses, while 284 are air-conditioned Kinglong buses.

Officials admit to the lapse. Ravi Raja, BEST committee member said, "These fire extinguishers are mandatory, but even I haven't seen them in over 50 percent of buses."

Similarly other committee members claim, on condition of anonymity, that even they haven't seen fire extinguishers inside several CNG buses. "They are present only inside the Kinglong buses. However fire extinguishers are far-and-few inside normal buses," said S Ganacharya, another member of the Committee.

BEST officials are supposed to carry out an annual maintenance of these cylinders to check the level of gas inside.

The BEST administration, however, claims that the dearth of fire extinguishers is due to an ongoing revamp that began in January, in which older fire extinguishers are being replaced by a newer kind of container that retains the fire-dousing gas for longer periods.

 "Fire extinguishers are supposed to be present in all CNG buses, as part of the kit," agreed N Walawalkar, spokesperson, BEST.

To check the ground reality, SMD visited the Wadala depot, which is one among the 25 bus depots in Mumbai.

Incidentally, there were fire extinguishers inside all buses parked at the depot. BK Chougale, junior depot manager at Wadala depot said, "We have fire extinguishers in all CNG buses." He claimed that drivers and conductors are given training to douse fire in case of such incidents.

BEST employees have differing points of view. According to driver Gopal Jadhav, "The extinguishers are small. In fact, when fires break out in buses, we need to stop other buses and borrow their extinguishers to douse the flames. Once the extinguisher is used, we have to report the matter at the BEST depot and a new extinguisher is provided."

Conductor Raghunath Waghmare, however, claimed that every bus had an extinguisher near the driver's seat. "We are made to participate in a seminar every year to refresh our skills on the use of the fire extinguisher so that we are ready for emergencies" he added. 

With inputs by Maleeva Rebello

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