Hazardous RTVs as School Transport
By Maxwell Pereira

How apathetic can the Indian parent get - especially the Delhi one - in so far as his concern for the physical safety of minor off-springs is concerned, and his attitude to the hazardous nature of school transport that is used for them. This of course is not of much concern to the rich and the elite whose kids use their own chauffeur driven or self-driven cars. It is of the rest I am writing about - of the poorer lot who are too busy making ends meet to be really bothered… always taking recourse to their otherwise helpless state; and of the vast middle rung who are far too pre-occupied in climbing the ladder to be devoting time and energy to this crucial issue.

Really! Who hasn't seen the cycle-rickshaws and the TSRs with school bags hanging out of every nook and crevice, into which are loaded tiny-tots and other children - jam packed worse than sardines in a can! And the wriggling 'Mini's or 'Omni's and the crazy RTVs and the Har-Bari that worm in and out of all colonies driven dangerously by fly-by-night operators with suspect credentials!

Like the extreme people we are, it is only when calamity or tragedy strikes that we come out on the streets to beat our breasts, and cry hoarse blaming whosoever it is that one is capable of pointing fingers at! But by then, it is already too late!

Hazardous school transport is an area also focused on specially by Delhi Traffic police over the years, with successive heads in charge of traffic taking pains to issue suitable safety warnings to parents of school going children; also by corresponding with principals and headmasters to be alive to and not ignore the dangerous and unsafe manner in which their pupils are ferried to and from the school; and by drawing the attention of concerned authorities to the existing state of affairs for remedial steps in time… lest the growing loss of human life and especially the snuffing out of tender children in their prime, becomes the order of the day.

While all this is in general about school transport, coming specifically to RTVs in the context of the accident on this November 28 involving one such in which school children were being ferried:

It was in September 2002 that as the Traffic Chief for Delhi, I wrote to the then Commissioner cum Secretary Transport in the Delhi Government, drawing her attention to the hazardous nature of the RTVs. Up to August end that year 20 RTVs were involved in road accidents due to overturning alone, in which seven people lost their lives and 61 others were injured. Delhi Traffic Police had conducted a preliminary assessment of the problem and analyzed these accidents - coming up with the conclusion that in addition to driver behaviour there could also be something wrong with the very design and mechanical configuration of the RTV.

That the vehicle appeared to be precariously balancing on stilts that affected its road grip while negotiating roadbends, curvatures and turns; and especially when loaded with passengers, its centre of gravity at speeds exceeding 40kmph tended to be unstable, resulting in its toppling over on its side.

Since these were only observations and conclusions of traffic managers then not backed up by any workshop scientific engineering or mechanical parameters, the Transport Authority (TA) was requested to commission a regular study through a competent agency by going into the safety aspects of the design vis a vis the mechanical and dynamic parameters and configuration of the vehicle. In the interregnum, the policy of registering more RTVs was asked to be reviewed.

The TA was addressed again when former Secretary to Government of India Arvind Verma wrote to me deploring the manner in which RTVs were run on Delhi roads, demanding that strong, urgent and effective action be taken to rein in and tame them down. Because of their smaller size, and better capability and manoeuvrability to weave through traffic, he likened their potential for 'terrorism' very high - and desired strong steps to curb their undesirable habits, practices, tendencies and the "couldn't-care-a-damn" approach.

And again the TA got informed, when a harassed parent Shefali Chaturvedi of the Planning Commission, paranoid with fear for her child's safety complained about the unsafe and dangerous conditions with which school children were being ferried in RTVs.

Three years down the line, one learns that the safety study in respect of RTVs entrusted by Delhi Government to IIT Delhi is yet to see the light of day. One reads though in the newspapers the quotes attributed to members of the team which was doing the study - reiterating the very doubts the Traffic Police had complained about and addressed the TA with, right in the beginning: That because the vehicles' centre of gravity was high and width not enough, they tend to 'roll-over' at high speeds. This, against the claim that these vehicles have been declared fit and safe by Pune's Automobile Research Association of India (ARAD).

Till October this year, RTVs alone have been involved in 35 fatal accidents in Delhi in which as many people have died. Many more have died in 2003 and 2004, and since the time Traffic Police wrote to the Transport Authority not to register more RTVs or issue those permits to ply on Delhi roads. The deaths of how many more does the Administration want on its hands, before contemplating any concrete action? Why are our courts, even the Apex court, silent on the issue… when guidelines framed by the Supreme Court in respect of school transport are being violated with impunity!?

900 words 05.12.2005:
Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com


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