Autos that ferry kids still swerving past the law

Deccan Chronicle.  | Nikhil Gangadhar

Nation, Current Affairs

Autos crowded with children are a common sight in Bengaluru and has been for years. It has also always been illegal.

Autos are not allowed to ferry more than six children or three adults at a time but the rule is hardly followed.

As children set out for school every morning it’s common to see them packed into autorickshaws on the roads with the drivers seemingly unperturbed at breaking the law in full view of the police. Their confidence clearly stems from the fact that many get away with the practice, paying a paltry Rs 500 as fine even if caught by the police. While this emboldens others to follow suit, the city traffic police  claims it has booked 757 cases against vehicles overcrowded with school children till May this year and  around 5,043 such cases last year. In 2017,  4,556 cases were registered for the offence, it says.

These figures may sound impressive, but they are clearly not proving a deterrent as the practice is widespread even today. Strictly going by the rules no autorickshaw can carry more than six children or three adults. Aware that the drivers are blatantly flouting the rule to make as much money as possible from ferrying children to school, the traffic police says it has now decided to crack the whip and as a first step has instructed schools to ensure that the children use the safest mode of transport  to reach them.

“The school managements and the parents are equally responsible for not checking how the children travel and in what condition. This is a simple basic thing which requires attention, and if it doesn’t, precious lives will be lost,”  noted one police officer.

The police does seem to be taking the issue more seriously than before as recently traffic police commissioner,  Harishekaran and officials of the labour, education and transport departments held a video conference with all the Superintendents of Police and Inspector Generals of Police (IGP) of all the ranges in the state to discuss the problem of  autorickshaws putting the lives of school children at risk by packing them into the vehicles and also of goods vehicle illegally carrying labourers.

Said a senior police officer, who was present at the video conference, “Vehicles overcrowded with school children and goods vehicles ferrying labourers are breaking the law, but they are still going largely unchecked. We have noticed autorickshaws  filled with more than six children, which is dangerous. So now, the police have been asked to do patrolling during the schools’ opening and closing hours to make sure that no autorickshaw carrying the children is crowded. We have also been cracking the whip on the share auto practice in residential areas, where they carry  more than three adults.”

Revealing that the police has been getting complaints about autorickshaws carrying a large number of school children on  social media too, he claimed the police now meant business. “We have informed all the traffic police across the city and state to seize the licence of the auto drivers carrying more than six children and also cancel their permits. This applies to goods vehicles carrying labourers too,” he warned.

In fact, the officer asserted that in future if a vehicle was found committing the offence of ferrying more school children than permitted more than twice, it would be seized and a criminal filed against the driver.

Besides promising to enforce the law more strictly in future to curb the practice, the  traffic police says it intends to soon conduct awareness programmes  by inviting the parents and talking to them  about the dangers of sending their children in overcrowded autorickshaws to schools.

The police claims to have also informed the transport department to carry out  drives against autorickshaws putting the lives of children at risk while taking them to school.

The police seems to be at last making all the right decisions, but it’s hard to say whether it will actually follow through and strictly curb the practice of overcrowded autorickshaws that have been around for much too long.

We know it’s unsafe but we have no choice: Parents

Not all parents are blind to the risks of sending their children to school in overcrowded autorickshaws, but claim they have little choice in the matter as they cannot afford a school or private bus. Many find the schools  charge an exorbitant fee  for their buses. Said Mr Akhilesh Rao, a welding shop owner in Uday Nagar, whose children are studying in a well known school,  “I would like to send both my children in the school bus, but I cannot afford it as it costs close to Rs 17,000 a year for the service. This is far too  expensive unlike the autorickshaw. which charges only `400 a  month to pick up and drop the children. I am aware of the dangers involved in sending my children in the autorickshaw , but I have no choice. We cannot drop or pick up our children either, as we are busy with our work. We have requested the autorickshaw driver to be as safe as possible and told him not to crowd his vehicle with children.”

Targeting the school management more, he said if it reduced the fee for its bus, parents like him could consider using it for their children. “But running a school these days has become a business,” he shrugged ruefully.

Another parent, Mahalakshmi, who is a receptionist in a software company,  too said she  sent her daughter to school in an autorickshaw as she could not afford the school bus. “Also, these days school buses do not drop the children near their homes, but have a fixed pick-up and drop point. They don’t like to come into residential areas, as the roads are narrow. My daughter’s school bus too arrives at a spot 2 kms from our house and I will have to drop her and pick her up from it, which is hard to do given my job,” she explained, adding, “As working parents, we find the autorickshaws convenient. I don’t think the drivers are irresponsible. They are careful when they are carrying children in the vehicle.”  In her view, if the traffic police finds that autorickshaws are carrying too many children and are unsafe, it should first reprimand the schools for charging a high fee for their buses.

When contacted, a senior primary education officer, said the department was  aware of the problem and the traffic police too had informed it about  autorickshaws overcrowded with school children. “We will soon discuss the issue with the school managements and ask them to keep a check on the  autorickshaws to make sure they don’t carry more than six children at a time,” he assured.