In 1997, an overcrowded school bus fell off a bridge in Delhi’s Wazirabad and plunged into the Yamuna, killing 28 children from a government-run school at Ludlow Castle.
The incident led the Supreme Court to lay down clear guidelines for operation of school buses. But 20 years later, not much has changed on the ground.
Now, Thursday’s incident in UP’s Etah district where over 15 children were killed after speeding and overcrowded bus rammed a truck, has made parents of school going children shudder in fear.
According to government data, Delhi has 2,468 school buses and around 500 vans. But officials say the number could be more than 3,000 as schools and private cab owners continue to operate vans and buses without permits.
Some vehicles lack fitness certificates while many legal vehicles flout rules while plying on the roads, putting the lives of children and people on the road at risk.
A study by SaveLife Foundation and data with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that almost 43 children below the age of 18 are killed due to road crashes every single day in India. Road crashes kill six times more children than all crimes against them put together.
More so, among all other cities, Delhi recorded the highest number of accidents, injuries and fatalities.
“I am always scared till the time my son’s school bus doesn’t arrive at our society gate. Once or twice he got late in reaching home only because the driver was caught by the police midway for not having proper documents,” said Rupa, a nurse whose son studies at a private school in Mayur Vihar.
Both traffic police and transport department officials said that despite efforts, very little change can be seen on the ground as rash driving, overloading, and speaking on phone while driving are common. Crowding is a major problem in school vans and mini buses.
“Drivers of some school vans make children sit in the boot space. These that have CNG cylinders inside are ticking bombs. A vehicle with a capacity of eight children carries as many as 16 children,” said a traffic official.
Transport officials said even parents must be careful and avoid sending their children in such vans. “Many parents don’t think of safety and fix a cab among society members for the students. They do not verify if the cab has the CC/SBP permit that we issue to school buses and vans,” said a transport official.
In 2016, the traffic police penalized as many as 1,160 school buses and vans. The transport department, during the same year, challaned 157 buses and 162 vans apart from impounding 46 such vehicles.