SC guidelines go for toss; vans carry children three times above their capacity
SRINAGAR: Abirah steps into a school van and finds her place on a seat occupied by seven other children. It is her ride home from school. She clutches her school bag close to her while she struggles with other children for space on the seat.
A 2nd grade student in a reputed private school in Srinagar, Abirah finds the space in the school van claustrophobic. She finds no room to look out through the glass window, nor can she rid herself of the weight of the bag.
“It’s very uncomfortable to go home like this. We feel suffocated,” Abirah said. “I always feel like I will bump against other students in the van. We sit so tightly packed.”
On the seat next to her, there are four other children. Two more sit on the seat next to the driver. Along with their school bags, tiffin carriers and water bottles, the children’s travel in congested vans compromises their health. Each van carries 12-14 students while they are meant to ferry seven children.
“In summers, my son suffers because of heat inside the van,” said Rafia, whose son rides one such school van. “In winter, he catches infections from other children. Children are so tightly packed in vehicles that they breathe into one another’s faces. We have contacted school authorities, but they do nothing about it.”.
Despite Supreme Court guidelines regarding the safety of children in school buses, many schools of the valley fail to follow the standard. Children in preparatory schools face travel in similar conditions.
Teachers allege that students are mistreated in school vans. Some went to the extent of saying that kids were carried in vans “like cattle”. Faiqa, a preparatory school teacher, told Kashmir Reader, “Children get stuck to the glass windows in these small vehicles. That is how tightly the vans are filled with children. The windows are closed as a precautionary measure. The result is a build-up of temperature inside. Students feel suffocated, some fall asleep and face the danger of falling from the seats. Sometimes drivers sprinkle water on their faces to wake them up.”
One of the Supreme Court guidelines says that no vehicle shall carry school children in excess of its permitted seating capacity. There should also be enough space to keep school bags. But children have to retain their bags in their laps or have the drivers put the bags on top of the vans to accommodate more children.
One driver said that sometimes 18 toddlers travel to schools and pre-schools in a vehicle meant for seven people. “The rule says that a driver doesn’t have to carry more than 10 children in a van. But traffic cops are bought over with bribes,” the driver said, adding that “the children get exhausted in the van.”
SSP Traffic, Srinagar, Sargun Shukla said that traffic cops fine erring drivers but added that parents needed to be careful. “We chalan and seize the vehicles of the drivers (wherever we find overload). But it is the responsibility of the parents; they should not allow their children to go in overloaded vehicles.”
G N Var, the president of the Private School Association, said, “Sometimes it’s on the part of the parent that they prefer vans instead of buses and also the narrow lanes where buses can’t move, we have to use smaller vans.”
He further added that the association is conducting a survey to find out schools that are trying to exploit children and parents.