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School vans to stay off roads

- After Ranchi, Hazaribagh cracks down on overcrowding

Hazaribagh is cracking down on overcrowding of autorickshaws ferrying children to school and parents better get ready to face some tough times ahead.

Operators of these three-wheelers, commonly referred to as “school vans” have called a two-day strike from Wednesday in reply to the district administration’s efforts at reining them in and preventing them from packing in as many as 15 children for what becomes an extremely unsafe and uncomfortable ride to school.

Babar Ali, the president of School Vans’ Association, cites financial viability as justification for the over-crowding, but the district transport office is adamant on curbing this menace.

“Carrying more than six children in a van is in violation of a Supreme Court order. I have asked school van owners to register their vehicles as taxis and follow the rules at any cost,” said district transport officer Vinod Kumar, adding that such a move would put a legal cap on the number of children these vans carry.

There are over 500 such vans — essentially autorickshaws — operating in Hazaribagh and each carries around 15 to 20 children when they are supposed to seat not more than six.

Parents are worried about the strike. Yet many realise that the district administration’s move, whatever inconvenience that might lead to, is well-intended.

“The DTO should think of some other alternative because the school vans will continue their strike and create more trouble,” said Okni Mohalla resident Sanjay Kumar Sinha whose five-year-old girl studies in Sister Nivedita.

Operators are upset. Summarising their problem, Vicky Kumar, who runs a private van for St Xaviers and Sister Nivedita, said: “We have been asked to register our vehicles as taxis. This will mean that we cannot ferry more than six students. The cap on the number of students will hit our business hard,” said Kumar.

The operators charge Rs 500 for each student.

The Hazaribagh DTO’s move came a day after HRD minister Geetashree Oraon stunned school managements in Ranchi by taking a ride on their buses where children had been squeezed in.

In Hazaribagh, very few schools offer bus services to children, the exceptions being DAV Public School, Naman Vidya, Angels High and Vivekanand Public School.

Most cradles are dependent on private vans and hence, the two-day strike is likely to affect over 7,000 students.