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Parents sulk as autos stop ferrying school students in Doon

Auto-rickshaw drivers’ decision to stop ferrying school students in Dehradun from Monday led to an increase in traffic jams in the state capital as parents went to drop and pick up their children.

dehradun Updated: Jul 30, 2018 22:12 IST
Nitika Kakkar
Nitika Kakkar
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Parents carry their children from school in Dehradun on Monday. (Vinay Santosh Kumar /HT Photo)

Auto-rickshaw drivers’ decision to stop ferrying school students in Dehradun from Monday led to an increase in traffic jams in the state capital as parents went to drop and pick up their children.

At a union meeting held on Sunday, auto drivers took the decision after the Regional Transport Office (RTO) launched a crackdown on them for ferrying school children. The RTO is complying with the July 6 high court ruling that laid down certain norms for vehicles transporting school kids.

The problem

Known for its quality of school education, most of Dehradun’s reputed schools do not provide transport facility to its students. Speaking on the matter, president of the city’s ICSE schools Jennifer Kumar said, “First of all, it’s a huge financial burden and many schools do not have the resources to buy buses for transportation. Secondly, it is a big added responsibility as the safety and security of the students also needs to be tended to.

“Employing drivers and attendants, who are trustworthy, and then putting staff members on the bus to monitor, police verification plus a number of other factors are involved. It is not an easy task at all.”

The mandate

The Uttarakhand high court on July 6 ordered the state transport department to check overloading in school buses and vans. The Supreme Court has also laid down certain directions which must be followed by the vehicles transporting school children.

These include installing horizontal grills on the windows of the vehicle, having a first aid box, a speed governor and a fire extinguisher in the vehicle. The vehicle should be closed from all sides and should also have a door that locks. The high court has issued orders against overloading of vehicles as well.

Last week, the RTO started issuing challans and seizing vehicles which were flouting the listed norms.

“We are doing what the honourable court has instructed the transport department to do. The auto drivers are trying to propagate false information and are trying to pressurize us. If the auto drivers follow the court’s instructions, why will we stop them?” Assistant Regional Transport Officer (ARTO) Arvind Kumar Pander said.

“Our main priority is the security of the children. Most of these drivers overload their autos with 12-15 children and take them to school. Many times, children have fallen out. Their safety is at risk. Some of the safety standard listed by the court cannot by implemented by them. So, we are catching those at fault,” Pandey said.

The state transport department issued challans to 11 school vehicles on Monday. While two of these were from Dehradun, six were give challans in Rishikesh.

RTO Dehradun also released a statement on Monday stating that auto drivers are refusing to take school children as a result of the crackdown by the department and are deluding parents by spreading rumours that department is unnecessarily harassing the drivers.

Impact

Many schools in the city have 3,000-4,000 students. While some parents drop their wards themselves, others prefer to send their children through vans and autos. With autos no longer ferrying the students, most of the parents are now struggling for viable solutions.

“My son studies in class 9 and has been going to school by auto since he was in class 1. Today, I went to drop him to school and there was a big traffic jam as most of the parents had come to drop their children. So many cars and two-wheelers had blocked the road. I don’t have the time to drop him off and pick him up every day,” Sanjay Arora said.

“I can’t think of an alternative right now. Most vans taking children to school from our area are also full. Plus, my son says he doesn’t want to travel by van as it is suffocating. He is demanding his personal two-wheeler which I’m not in favour of at all. I’m in a real fix because of this,” he added.

Another parent, Rakesh Kumar Jaiswal, reiterated similar sentiments. “Both my kids used to go to school by auto. I have known that auto driver for years and I trust him. I don’t want to send them in a van driven by a stranger. Plus, the vans charge more than autos and considering the present situation, they might increase their charges even more,” he said.

Jaiswal said while overloading in autos is an issue, the focus should be on resolving the problem without autos stopping completely. “Authorities should figure out a way to ensure the auto drivers do not carry too many kids. But if they stop functioning, it will create a lot of problems for the parents,” he added.

Dip in earnings

Auto drivers say this was a big blow to their earnings. “I used to ferry six students from Doon International School in my auto and earned ₹8,000 per month from them. From this money, I used to pay my house loan instalment. This was my safety net. Now, it all depends upon what I earn from other customers. This is my only source of income and there are times when we don’t even get a single customer in a day,” 54-year-old auto driver Rajesh Bajaj said.

Another auto drive Narendra Kumar Sharma said he has been transporting school children from 1979. “At that time, I used to charge ₹30 per month for a child. Now, I charge ₹1,000. I ferry six students in my auto. One of them started going when she took admission in Nursery. Now, she is in class 11. I have seen her grow up in front of my eyes. I feel connected to these kids,” he said.

“My grandson studies in Summer Valley School. I used to pick him up from school at 12 pm and drop him off at my daughter’s house before going to ferry other children. Today, I asked my daughter to go and get him from school because the officials might seize my auto if they see a child in school uniform,” Sharma added.

Solution

ARTO Pandey said: “Ideally, it is the schools’ responsibility to transport the students. However, I also had a meeting with members of the school can association. They have said that they will also be increasing the number of vans operating in the city to counter this problem.”

Sachin Gupta, president of Uttarakhand school van association, said he would be getting permit for 30 new vans in the next two days. “The RTO has also ensured us that if we submit all the required documents, then permit for new vehicles will also be issued by them in a day.”

When asked about an increase in fare, Gupta said, “Yes, there is a possibility that van drivers might increase the fare by 10-25 per cent. We will also be upgrading our vans according to the norms of the court. We need to cover our expenses.”

When asked about a solution, district magistrate SA Murugesan said, “I will talk to the RTO officials in the matter and then figure out a way forward.”

First Published: Jul 30, 2018 22:12 IST