They kept their children away from school for a week to protect them from swine flu. Little did they know that the bus ferrying their kids to school every day could be far more life threatening.
Twenty-two students from Changu Kana Thakur school in New Panvel, 40 km from Mumbai, suffered from burn injuries on Thursday when the bus taking them to school caught fire.
The injuries could have been avoided — if the bus had a fire extinguisher, which the Supreme Court recommended for all school buses in 1997.
Of the 38 students in the bus, 10 have suffered 40 to 70 per cent burns and are critical. “Once they are stable, the children admitted here will all need skin grafts,” said Dr Sunil Keswani from National Burns Centre, Airoli. “A 11-year-
old boy with 70 per cent burns is in an unstable condition.”
The police have arrested the driver-owner of the mini-bus and the cleaner; the bus had been hired by parents.
The incident occurred around 6.45 am. The students, between 10 and 15 years of age, were on the bus when it got stuck in traffic off the Sion-Panvel highway. “There was fuel smell and then suddenly fire. Some of us got out of the windows, some from the door. The fire spread quickly so everyone could not get out,” said Suman M, a Class V student, who escaped unscathed.
Fire personnel reached the spot in 10 minutes, but the bus was charred by then. “Had they [fire-fighting equipment] been there, the fire could have been controlled immediately,” said Mohan Naik, deputy fire officer, New Panvel fire station.