The charred interior of the pool car. (Gopal Senapati)
Eight children had a narrow escape when a fire broke out in a pool car taking them to school at Liluah in Howrah on Tuesday morning.
The girls, who study between kindergarten and Class IV at Shree Agrasain Balika Vidyalaya, told the school authorities that the driver had not stopped the car even after they alerted him about being suffocated by smoke that was filling up the Maruti Omni.
The girls also said the driver fled after spotting the flames, instead of trying to save them.
The seats and the steering wheel of the car were charred. Two tenders doused the flames. The police have impounded the vehicle. “We are trying to track the owner. He may lead us to the driver,” said a police officer.
The vehicle was being illegally used as a pool car, according to information gathered by Metro.
When the car stopped in the middle of GT Road in Liluah around 8.15am, flames could be spotted in the front.
Balaram Naskar, a resident of the area, was sipping tea at a roadside shop when he heard the girls’ cry for help from inside the car.
“Many of us rushed to the car to rescue the girls. Some of the girls had by then managed to open one of the doors of the car and jump out. The younger ones were still trapped. We could bring them out in the nick of time,” recounted Naskar.
The students had boarded the vehicle in Salkia, around 3km from the spot where the driver stopped the vehicle.
“When driver uncle started the car, there was a strong smell of fuel inside the vehicle. We had never got the smell before in the car. Some of the didis told the driver to stop the car but he ignored our plea,” said five-year-old Kushali Nandi.
The car was barely 300 metres from the school when the girls spotted a fire below the seat to the left of the driver.
“We were scared and started to scream. The driver, too, spotted the flames and stopped the car. But instead of rescuing us, he fled,” said Antara Mitra, a Class IV student.
Anil Pandey, the administrator of Shree Agrasain Balika Vidyalaya, went to the spot and escorted the girls to school. “Luckily none of the girls was injured, but they were all traumatised. All of them, however, appeared for their exams,” said Pandey.
The car was carrying eight children in violation of motor vehicle rules, which limit the number of people an Omni can ferry to five.
The vehicle also did not have the mandatory fire extinguisher.
The name of the school and its contact number were not displayed on the car, as required by the law.
The transport department is to be blamed for illegal pool cars, say public vehicle department officials.
According to officials, the last major crackdown on illegal pool cars was in 2010. “The Trinamul government has issued several warnings to those running illegal pool cars but not a single drive has been undertaken,” said the official.
- All pool cars to display school’s name and telephone numbers
- Each car must have an attendant and a first-aid kit
- Number of students must not exceed limit
- Pool cars must
be registered as commercial vehicles