Packed school bus forces Aarey kids to walk through forest
After several leopard attacks, BEST buses had started ferrying students to school, but they are insufficient; children are thus forced to take the dangerous forest route that has witnessed a man-leopard conflict two months ago
Parents at Aarey Milk Colony are a worried lot these days. Every day, several of their children have to go to school on foot, as the BEST bus that ferries them to the destination is jam-packed and doesn’t allow them on board.
There have been several incidents of man-leopard conflict in the past few months. After requests from residents, BEST authorities had provided bus services for the children who went to the municipal school in the colony. But it is nowhere near to the number of services required to cater to the population of the adivasi padas in the premises.
Speaking to MiD DAY, Anand Rao Moghe, a member of the Parents Association at Aarey Milk Colony, said “We were happy that the bus was started to ferry students safely to school, but there is still a shortage of buses. Around 444 students have to walk to school due to this. Many of the students have started taking the old forest shortcut from Adarsh Nagar again.”
This is the same route on which Prakash Salunkhe (14) had been dragged into the bushes and mauled to death by a leopard in October (12-year-old boy mauled in Aarey, October 19). The incident occurred when Prakash was returning home from school in the evening around 5.30 pm. Soon after the incident, the rear gate of the school, which opened into the forest road, was closed completely to stop students from using it. The gate is now open again.
Packed like sardines
MiD DAY visited Mayur Nagar on Tuesday morning at 6.45 am, the first bus stop for the bus en route to the school and were shocked to see that the bus was completely full at its point of origin.
Three students of primary sections were seen sitting on one seat and somehow, in between, one child managed to stand. Not an inch of space was visible. There were more than 150 students travelling in one bus to the school. This is how the students commute to school every day.
“The young children are being transported like cattle. The capacity of the bus should be increased,” requested a parent on condition of anonymity. The journey is about 3 km long and takes 8-10 minutes, but is made worse due to the pothole-ridden roads. The bigger ones, from the secondary section, are not allowed on the buses.
“We want to take the bus, but we aren’t allowed to do so. Who doesn’t want to be safe? We have no choice but to walk,” said a student from the secondary section of the school. A teacher from the municipal school informed, “In order that students don’t have to walk, the bus has to do an additional trip due to which students miss their classes.”
Two more buses
More than 3,000 students attend the Aarey Municipal School, which has two Marathi, two Tamil and one Hindi medium division. A majority of the students coming to these schools are residents of tribal hamlets from Aarey. Some are from Adarsh Nagar, Mayur Nagar , Durga Pada etc.
A single-decker BEST bus has a seating capacity of 49 to 51 persons and it accommodates as many as 20-22 standees. However, the BEST buses in Aarey carry more than 150 students per bus, which is very high. At present, there are four buses that ferry 1,240 students. These buses were provisioned after the identification of areas where students took the forest roads.
Moghe told this correspondent, “The authorities should provide two more buses, so that the secondary students of Std VIII, IX and X can also travel safely in the bus. We have already sent a letter to the concerned department and we expect that this issue will be sorted out at the earliest, so that another instance of man-animal conflict does not occur.”
Jitendra Valvi, Shiv Sena Corporator said, “I am aware that secondary students are not allowed on the bus. I have already written a letter to the Education Department of BMC and have requested them that a provision to ferry secondary students from Aarey to the school be made in the budget and buses be provided soon.”
3,000: No of students who go to Aarey Municipal School
1,240: No of students who use the BEST bus service
444: No of students who have to take the forest route due to jam-packed buses