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The drivers of death

Blueline buses have killed at least 275 Delhiites every year since 2003, report Nagendar Sharma and Yashwant Raj.

delhi Updated: Sep 03, 2007 02:18 IST

IF IT were not the fact that Mukesh has a hard face, craggy, lined and with enough facial hair to conceal whatever emotion that dares to break through, you may find him a suitable understudy for the retiring Tihar hangman.

Without a trace of remorse or any other emotions, he baritoned: “I can lie and say I was never involved in a fatal accident. It has happened to me more than once.”

Mukesh is a Blueline bus driver, his first kill a motorcyclist who breathed his last under his Blueline. He had, of course, run away from the accident. And he was, of course, arrested later. And he was, of course, out on bail soon after.

The next morning, he said, his employer put him on another route, to drive one of the many buses owned by him. That’s the only punishment he is ever going to suffer, banished to another route. No prizes for guessing what Mukesh would do next. Another accident, of course. This time he was even luckier. “No case was registered as it was a night time accident,” he said, with a small but smug smile.

Excuse me? No case was registered because the accident happened in night? No law condones any accident, any time of the day or week or month or year. But that is how things happen on Delhi streets.

Blueline buses have killed at least 275 Delhiites every year since 2003. In another life, the Bluelines were red. The change of colour was a clever ruse by the city authorities to end mounting public outcry.

There was obviously no change of heart. These privately-owned buses continued their killing spree, claiming 275 lives a year — motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, schoolchildren and even their own passengers.

And here is a nightmare situation for any policy-planner anywhere in the world. There is no count of the number of Blueline drivers in the city. Every bus must have two, according to permit conditions.

If that is happening, there should be 4,379 multiplied by two drivers in Delhi But bus owners say there is a severe shortage of bus operators in the city, and that they would be lucky to have even one for every bus.

Not one driver has hanged yet, or has even served a sentence longer than a few days or weeks at most. They are all out within a couple of hours — the law dealing with fatal accidents of this kind is phenomenally flawed.

Mohammad Ilyas, a Blueline driver, lost his licence after an elderly man came under his bus and died. “I was in custody for a week and when I came out on bail, my owner asked me to get a fresh driving licence from either Gurgaon or Ghaziabad.”

For Rs 3,000, he got himself a new licence and was back at work even before the victim’s family had stopped mourning possibly. His only punishment: a week in police custody and an impounded licence.

But drivers — and this is the hardest bit to swallow — say they cannot be blamed for every death under their vehicles. Amrik Singh and Vijay Kumar both blame their victims for their death.

It had been raining that day and the roads were slippery. A motorcyclist, says Amrik, tried to overtake his bus from the left. The motorcycle skidded and the rider was thrown under the bus. He died.

“I was scared and did not know what to do, as I had never imagined in my life that somebody could be killed like this because of me,” said Amrik. He ran away but was arrested and spent a month in jail.

Vijay also blames his victim. But the larger blame was reserved for the owner of his bus.

Drivers in his employ do not have fixed routes — do one route in the morning and another in the evening.

But that didn’t figure in the FIR that was registered. In fact, he said, the policemen forced him not to name the owner. “I did as I was told — long working hours and change of route were not mentioned at all.”

But being stressed can’t be an excuse for killing someone. It’s hard, therefore, to sympathise with the overworked and underpaid drivers. There can be no sympathy for the devil, but some grudging understanding perhaps?