In the the backdrop of the recently reported rape cases of students in school buses, Regional Transport Officer Jitendra Patil, along with representatives of school bus operators, traffic police and school principals, discussed the issue of the safety of school children at the mid-day office yesterday. The discussion led to several enlightening conclusions, the most significant being the realisation that the safety of children in school premises and also during transit to and from is the collective responsibility of parents, school, bus operators and other government agencies. Here are what some of the esteemed panelists had to say on a host of issues
Left to Right: Trinity school Principal Shakuntala Jaisinghani, Cityplus Publisher Jitendra Hiranandani, Director of Navkrishna Valley Mrugnaina Lunkad, Citylus mid-day-Resident Editor Danish Manzoor, Pune RTO Jitendra Patil, Police Inspector (Traffic) Ramchandra Dhage, Executive Director of ASK Foundation and a trained psychologist Barkha Bajaj
The ground reality
Jitendra Patil: Maharashtra is the first state to have an independent policy for school bus transportation. While formulating this policy, the government has identified the stakeholders, which are the children, their parents, school authorities, bus operators and government agencies. Every school must have a transport committee that organises workshops.
Barkha Bajaj: Worldwide, paedophilia is a big issue. We don’t have the sense of ‘duty to care’ towards the children. Schools also don’t consider sensitisation programmes seriously. The accountability of all stakeholders and prevention of crimes is the main issues before us.
Vidya Kamat: The mindset of parents, school principals and bus operators also need to change. The personal care, which was earlier taken by the drivers, is missing nowadays. Instead of blaming others, we should press for enforcement of norms and use of technology for the safety of children.
The responsibility of schools
Jitendra Patil: During the transit period, child’s safety is the responsibility of school authorities and bus operators. Schools should adhere to the guidelines of school bus policy, and in turn government authorities will also ensure strict enforcement of rules. If any school does not have its own buses, they should acquire them, taking loans if necessary.
Shakuntala Jaisinghani: In case of school buses, it is the responsibility of schools till the child actually reaches home safely. In post trauma situations, schools try to trivialise things. Instead, they should immediately report sexual abuse incidents to police.
Sudamrao Jambhulkar: Our experience is that when we give a copy of the bus operator contract to the schools, they don’t even bother to reply. They should respond quickly and responsibly so that children do not suffer.
Vidya Kamat: The school bus policy says we should appoint female attendants, but many schools refuse permission to these women to avail basic facilities like toilets in the school.
School transport committees
Jitendra Patil: To ensure safety of students, especially girls, all sensitive decisions should be taken by the transportation committees – including the Parent Teacher Association representative – at school levels. The school administration is the best body to take final call on the exact locations and timings of bus stops on route. In no case should any female student be dropped last.
Shakuntala Jaisinghani: It is observed that after the initial meetings of transport committees, regular follow-ups don’t happen. RTO and traffic branch police officials should attend meetings regularly.
The need for background checks
Jitendra Patil: Schools and bus operators, while hiring drivers and attendants, should check that they have minimum five years of experience and the police have done their character verification. Operators can call for references given by the driver and attendants before hiring them. We can’t have an overnight solution to this sensitive issue and schools should rope in good bus operators.
Barkha Bajaj: We need to have a diverse database of drivers and better background checks. People don’t have any idea about laws like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. School authorities and others need to be sensitised about the provisions of various laws. RTO and police officials, and not just school authorities, can collate licence data of of drivers.
Jitendra Patil: While employing drivers and attendants in school buses, they should be trained in different areas. They should be taught child psychology, as well as ways to tackle fire hazards. We have conducted such training programmes. Schools, through their transport committees, can invite RTO officials and psychologists to conduct such training programmes.
Vidya Kamat: Many schools do not have any kind of data about how each of their students comes to school. Every school should collect this data from the parents, which will help in taking suitable decisions in the transport committee meets. Parents should also shed their casual approach and share information with the schools.
Plans for the future
Jitendra Patil: The schools have been given a deadline up to June 30. They will have to submit a report on the formation of transport committees, the regular meetings of these committees and implementation of decisions taken by the committees. The education department of PMC has also taken up this issue seriously. We have sensitised principals of more than 800 schools and this initiative will cover 500 more schools in coming days. Also, the media should report good practices and promote those drivers and attendants who have good track record over years in this field.
Ramchandra Dhage: Since January, we have taken action against 1,111 vehicles that were found ferrying school children beyond the permissible capacity. We have collected a fine of Rs 1.23 lakh from these erring operators. Besides the penal action against drivers, we have suspended licences of 52 drivers. And 49 vehicles were seized for flouting various norms. We have sent 71 cases to court for further hearing. The drive against erring drivers, bus operators will continue.
Kiran Desai: Media should highlight the good practices followed by bus operators and also appreciate drivers and attendants who have good track record. It will help in motivating other drivers.
>> Police Inspector (Traffic) Ramchandra Dhage
>> Executive Director of ASK Foundation and trained psychologist Barkha Bajaj
>> Principal of Trinity School Shakuntala Jaisinghani
>> Principal and Founder of New City Pride School Arun Chabukswar
>> Principal of Poona Blind School Chandrakant Bhosle
>> Founder of P K International School Jagannath Kate
>> Principal of I Play I Learn play school Neeta Parate
>> Director of Navkrishna Valley Mrugnaina Lunkad
>> Vice-President of School Bus Owners Association
>> Others who participated were Rajan Junavane, Sudamrao Jambhulkar, Vidya Kamat, Kiran Desai
>> Suryadatta Institutes, Anita Joshua and Seema Shabdhar
Mid-day will come up with a brief note on the proceedings and the PDF of the same will be made available for all the schools in the city and sent to them over e-mail.