Vishal Dhavan, 37, an operator of school vans in Lower Parel has not been able to get a good night’s sleep since he received a WhatsApp message about the Union government’s recent amendment to the Central Motor Vehicle Rules 1989, which deals with school buses.
The ministry of road transport and highways introduced a new definition of school buses on September 8 last year, worrying thousands of van owners across the state.
“School buses are vehicles that have a seating capacity of 13 passengers and more, excluding the driver. The buses must be designed and constructed specially for transporting children to and from schools,” the new definition reads.
Former transport officials said the vehicles that have 12 seats and fewer will only able to ply only till their school bus permit — which has a validity of five years — is valid.
In Maharashtra, school vans have been registered under the school bus category since 2011, after the state government introduced a new school bus policy and rules for the safe transportation of children to and from school. Currently, 22,322 vehicles are registered under this category.
In Maharashtra, the number of school vans — which have between six and 12 seats — could be around 6,000, said officials. The owners of such vehicles are worried about losing their bread and butter, if transport authorities act on the demand of school bus operators and implement the amendment.
The School Bus Owners Association (SBOA) has written to the transport and traffic authorities, demanding the cancellation of the permits of all school vans, with the retrospective effect, in the wake of the new definition.
Bus operators demanded action against the school vans, calling them illegal. Anil Garg, SBOA leader, questioned why the transport department did not take action against the vans after the new definition was introduced.
Pandurang Humane, president of Maharashtra RajyaVidyarthi Vahatuk Sanghatana, said those who own school vans plan to protest against the amendment. Humane said members of the group will meet in Panvel on Sunday to brainstorm what can be done.
School van operators will also call a meeting of statewide members in Pune this month, to discuss their next course of action.
Transport department officials said that if small vans are banned, then the illegal transportation of children to and from school is likely to start. They added that this will inconvenience parents.
“We are expanding the definition, so there is no contradiction,” said an official, who is not authorised to speak to media.