There’s a new price to pay for the safety of school children.
And this time, school authorities may end up footing the bill, with the state transport minister proposing they buy buses
to ferry students instead of relying on private bus contractors.
“School authorities are equally responsible in case of an accident since they charge school bus fees. We are thinking of asking all schools to have exclusive buses to ferry children and will also plan new rules for this,” said Transport Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil.
The Panvel bus fire that killed five school students and injured 15 others in August is seen as the reason behind this proposal. School authorities usually blame the bus driver and contractor in the event of a bus fire.
The department is also acting on the fact that of the 3,000-odd city school buses, no more than 800 have installed a rear emergency door the department ordered after the Panvel fire, with a November 10 deadline.
The Private School Bus Owners association has said it has not been given enough time to get the extra door fixed on existing buses, and that there are only 10 bus-body building workshops qualified to do the job. Harsh Kotak of the association refused to comment on the proposal for schools to own their buses.
Next week, Vikhe Patil and state transport department officials will meet with schools, the bus association, Parent Teachers Associations and local RTOs in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur. The department will go ahead with its proposal after this meeting.
The new idea has not gone down well with schools. Fr Jude Fernandes of Bandra’s Stanislaus School, said: “This will burden us further with issues like parking of buses.”
“We should stick to our competency: teaching and transportation must be left to the respective agency,” said Ranjini Krishnaswamy, principal, St Gregorious High School.
“Schools must be responsible for the system transporting students. They can’t blame bus contractors,” said Indrani Malkani, member of the state-appointed panel, Safe Transportation for School Children.