The Karnataka High Court has upheld the new government’s rule that bans the use of vehicles older than 15 years, for ferrying school children. Justice A N Venugopala Gowda passed this order rejecting a petition filed by T J Damodara, owner of a maxicab registered in 1992. According to the new rule, his 21-years-old vehicle cannot transport school children, which the petitioner said had affected his income.
However the court said that the Rule 6(2) of the Karnataka Motor Vehicles (conditions for vehicles engaged in transport of schoolchildren) Act 2012, which bans the use of vehicles older than 15 years, did not violate the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988. “The legislative intent attaching due significance to public safety is evident from the object and reasons of the Motor Vehicles Act. In these circumstances, I do not find the rule to be ultra vires of the Act,” Mr. Gowda observed in his order.
This is a real setback to the private school bus operators, who went on a three-day strike last month opposing the new rules for school cabs. But the most interesting aspect of this HC order is that, the verdict is dated June 17, copy of which was released now. It means the HC gave this verdict prior to the strike which started only from 19 June, 2013. This is important because the Karnataka United School and Light Motor Vehicle Drivers’ Union called off the strike only after an assurance from the government that enforcement of new guidelines for vehicles plying school children will be put on hold. They were in the process of getting the High Court guidelines that school cab owners claimed will give them a way out of the 15-year age cap for the buses. But both of which is not a reality now.
Even after the protest by the school cab owners, Bangalore Traffic Police continued to enforce the guidelines across the city. Last month itself, the traffic police have booked more than 1,400 cases for permit violations. And now the HC order is out, which clearly supports the same rule which the union is opposing the most – that is, enforcement of the 15 year cap for the school cab. But there is nothing surprising about this verdict as this was very much expected keeping in view that in January itself High court had directed the state government to enforce these guidelines.
Background: Enforcing age-old guidelines
Following the Supreme Court direction to State governments to take steps to ensure safety of children the Transport Department issued a notification, regarding the implementation of Karnataka Motor Vehicles (Conditions for Vehicles Engaged in Transportation of Schoolchildren) Act 2012. In January High court also directed the state government in this regard. The Act came into force on May 1, 2013. The schools were informed about this new guidelines on the same month. It means Schools had one month time to get ready, as the schools reopened only on June 1st.
The New Guideline had 18 points to ensure the safety of the children. Some of them are:
- All school buses, vans and auto rickshaws should be painted in yellow with a green stripe all round.
- The vehicles ferrying schoolchildren should not be more than 15 years old from the date of its registration.
- They should also not carry children beyond the permitted capacity. Even the school managements offering transport services should ensure that their vehicles adhere to these rules. They are expected to form a committee to monitor the same.
- The vehicle should be fitted with approved speed governors with a maximum speed limit of 40 km per hour.
- The vehicles should possess a contract carriage permit.
- The driver should have valid license to drive transport vehicle for a period of at least four years.
- If the vehicle is fitted with LPG kit, the same should be an authorized kit installed and certified by the registering authority. There should be no seating arrangements above the LPG tank.
- The vehicle should not have tinted glass.
- The vehicle doors should have reliable locks and enough space for the school bags also.
- Complete information of the permit holder should be painted or affixed to the cab on the rear exterior.
- The complete list of children being ferried in the school cabs should be maintained in the vehicle.
Majority of the schools in the city, don’t have their own school buses to ferry students. They hire private vehicles on contract basis. Even if the school is having its own transport system, many parents prefer private vehicles as they come to doorstep to pick up children and are more economical. Number of schools in Bangalore is around 3,000 and number of school-owned buses is nearly 6000. More than 16,000 school vehicles are run by private operators. Despite the government issuing guidelines for children’s safety, neither schools nor their transport operators took it seriously until the Traffic Police started cracking down on the school buses which don’t comply with the rules.
Safety should be the first concern
Among these guidelines the 15 years cap on the age of the school vehicle is the one which is bothering the drivers’ union the most. The union is ready to implement safety measures said in the guideline. But it is strongly opposing the 15 years cap on age of the vehicle, siting affordability as the reason. But according to the official records, the major violation is overloading the children. The cab operators may not really bother, but parents do worry about their little ones being stuffed into school vans and autos.
Tragic incidents involving school cabs and buses are not a very rare thing now. Tamil Nadu witnessed the same type of stir last year when new regulations were laid down following the death of a six-year-old student, after she fell through a hole in the floor of her bus. From this academic year, schools in Tamil Nadu are getting tough lessons on bus safety, as the Transport department officials are strictly implementing the new guidelines without any compromise.
Now, as the legal support has strengthened further with regard to the implementation of the new guidelines, the state government should march ahead in this direction. It might cause some short term side effects like strike or fare hike by cab operators or disorganisation of school transport system. But, these problems are worth facing when it is a question of safety of the little ones. When it concerns young lives, the formula should be ‘No Compromise’.