In the new academic year, a few schools in Maharashtra have begun taking the lead in following the new School Bus Policy seriously. The state government had submitted a policy to Bombay High Court in April this year for school buses ferrying pupils to and from school. In it, right from the colour of the school bus to the door grab to the seat design, nearly everything that relates to the safety of a school going child was incorporated with rules on each issue. It also took into account the issues of special and exclusive bus bays, bus stops, traffic wardens, mandatory permits, etc. for those operating the buses. The responsibility of school administration and bus contractors too is clearly spelt out in the policy. The School Bus Policy, as it is generally known, was to be incorporated from the current academic year itself.
The policy was necessitated owing to a few accidents involving school buses. The final trigger was the exploding of a Maruti Omni carrying children from a Navi Mumbai school. The incident had claimed the lives of two children and had led to injury to 15 others.
The rules, given in an exhaustive list, stem from an effort to regulate the operation of school buses in relation to construction, maintenance and safety norms for children. Under the new policy, it is mandatory for the school bus operators to have a permit from the Regional Transport Authority. It is also mandatory for each district to have a District School Bus Safety Committee under the chairmanship of Police Commissioner or District Superintendent of Police. It will comprise Chief Executive Officer of Zilla Parishad or his nominee, Municipal Commissioner or Additional Municipal Commissioner or his nominee, General Manager or Transport Manager of Municipal Transport, Divisional Controller of Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation, Chief Officer of Municipal Council and Education Officer (primary or secondary) of Zilla Parishad. Apart from this, it is mandatory for every school to form a Transport Committee that will look into matters of safe transportation of school children, transportation fees and identification of bus stops. It will be headed by the Principal and will have one representative of Parent Teachers’ Association (PTA), a Traffic or Police Inspector of the area, Inspector of Motor Vehicles or Assistant Inspector of Motor Vehicles of the area, Education Inspector, representative of bus contractor and representative of local authority. It is mandatory for the Committee to meet at least once in three months before the commencement of a semester. The committee will also be required to verify documents of the vehicle like registration certificate, certificate of fitness, certificate of insurance, permit, pollution under certificate, driving licence, fire extinguisher and first aid kit.
Parking and Halting Places for the school buses have to be well defined and approval from the RTO of the school bus models has to be taken. “The Regional Transport Authority, in consultation with the School Authorities, Traffic Police and Municipal Corporation or Council shall specify the parking and halting at appropriate locations exclusively for the school buses having regard to the school timings and safety of the children,” state the guidelines.
The question that comes to mind on the issue is: Will this be financially viable for the schools or bus manufacturing companies? Says Jitendra Patil, Deputy Road Traffic Officer of Pimpri-Chinchwad, who was the member secretary of the committee that formed the policy, “We have given them exemption from taxation. Earlier, there was no financial exemption to this extent. Now that will change. As a matter of fact, because of this, companies like Maruti and Tata Motors have come up with specific plans. Even the existing buses have been modified to cater to the needs of the students.”
Among the general conditions, many are firsts in the state. The school buses or taxis are to be painted in yellow colour and will carry the words “School Bus” both – in front of the vehicle as well as in the rear. The name of the school is required to be painted on a 150mm wide, golden brown band on all the sides of the bus as well as below the window level. The age of the vehicle too is well defined – not more than 15 years old from the date of registration.