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Parents, get ready to cough up higher school bus fee

School Bus Owners’ Association calls for a fee hike, cites increasing price of diesel as well as non-cooperation from educational institutes and state government as main reasons

The School Bus Owners’ Association (SBOA) has stated the increasing price of diesel as well as non-cooperation from schools and government authorities as some of the main reasons for a proposed fee hike.

School bus
School bus owners say that the amount of the hike will be decided only after the PTA approves it. PIC FOR REPRESENTATIONAL ONLY

“The government expects us to introduce many infrastructural changes in our school buses, such as build racks below the seats so that students could keep their bags and install exit doors in case of an emergency. But we are paying money from our own pockets to carry out these changes. Also, the diesel rate has increased since 2009 and so have the prices of spare parts. We are taking all these expenses into account before putting forward the proposal for fee hike,” said Anil Garg, president of the association.

No clarity over school bus policy
Adding fuel to the fire is the uncertainty surrounding the school bus safety policy, which seems to have no official stand yet. While a government resolution (GR) released on this issue by the transport department is still in effect, the one that was issued by the education department was scrapped after protests from school principals. “There is still no clarity about the role of schools in the implementation of the policy. Many schools have washed their hands off the policy and we are getting blamed,” said another school bus owner. He added that while the policy mandated that schools pay for the lady attendants, many educational institutes are refusing to pay for the same.

In November 2013, the school education department issued a GR regarding the policy on November 18, entrusting principals with the responsibility of transporting school children safely and prohibited auto rickshaws and taxis from ferrying children to school. However, the state education minister stayed this GR on November 26, 2013 following opposition from school managements. In December, this same GR was announced as cancelled on the floor of the state assembly. Till date, there has been no clarity on the policy.

Last month, state school education minister Rajendra Darda had said that a meeting of all stakeholders of the policy would be organised and a new GR would be released soon. However, that did not happen. State education secretary Ashwini Bhide told sunday mid-day, “While one of the latest GRs has been scrapped, the previous GR released by the transport department is still in place, so schools or bus owners cannot wash their hands off the policy.”

Parents unhappy with proposed fee hike
Parents are furious about being the final victims of a system where the state government seems to have no control. “Every time the diesel rates increase, school bus owners propose a fee hike and the state education department seems to have no control over anything. Till date, only a handful of schools have set up a school bus committee, which is a mandate according to the school bus policy. Why are schools not being pulled up for this?” asked Arundhati Chavan, president of Parents Teachers Association (PTA) United Forum. Garg said that the fee would be hiked according to rules. “Most bus owners have already discussed the need for a fee hike with the school PTA. Only after the approval of the PTA, we will decide the amount of the hike,” he said.

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