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It is not only auto-rickshaw and van owners who are at fault, many parents don’t have time or the inclination to drop off their kids to a designated stop for the school bus. They rather prefer to send their children to school in an auto-rickshaw or a van, as its picks them up from the doorstep.
"My daughter is only five and studies in a nearby school. Sending her to school by an auto-rickshaw is the only option as it picks her up from the house. Also, the auto-rickshaw driver provides her personal attention. He knows everybody, which is not possible with a bus driver," says Tanseem Burhani, a homemaker.
On the other hand, the auto-rickshaw and van drivers are not impressed by the Gwalior high court order, as it hits their income. They maintain the order — that restricts the number of children (below 12) they can carry to five — is unrealistic and not viable.
"The rule tells us that we can carry five children (below 12) in our auto-rickshaw. However, the prices of fuel are so high that operating in accordance with such an order is not viable. We have to carry more children, otherwise, the fare (with five children) will be so high that even the parents won’t agree to it," says Salim Khan, an auto-rickshaw driver.
Whatever is the stand of the drivers, and irrespective of the willingness or unwillingness of the parents to shell out a large amount as fare, the fact remains that rules have to be obeyed when the safety of the children is at stake. Children are forced to undertake the unsafe journey to school every day.
When Hindustan Times spoke to officials regarding the solution for the problem, assistant superintendent of police (ASP) traffic Anjana Tiwari said, "The traffic police department has been taking out regulation drives on a regular basis to check the violation of safety rules under the Supreme Court and high court guidelines."
Speaking about the violation of Gwalior high court’s order by auto-rickshaws, Tiwari said, "The number of erring auto-rickshaw drivers has come down. We can only check them when they are passing through the main roads and squares, but they often take the narrow lanes to avoid the police."
When asked whether such regulation drives will help sort out the problem, Tiwari said the enforcement of laws by the traffic police is only a part of the solution.
"We are doing our job, but the parents should stop sending their children to school in the overcrowded auto-rickshaws. The schools also should take steps to check this," says Tiwari.
According to the ASP, six auto-rickshaw drivers are fined every day on an average for violating the rules regarding the capacity of the auto-rickshaws laid by the HC.
Tiwari says that the police department is always ready to act on complaints. "If the parents feel strongly about it, they should bring the matter to our notice and we will take action. Vigilant citizens can send us photographs of overloaded auto-rickshaws (with the number plates) and we will take action," the ASP says.