The Telegraph
Wednesday , August 6 , 2014
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The height of danger, sleeper seats

The electrocution of five kanwariyas from Chas, who came into contact with an overhead high-tension wire in Bihar’s Banka district on Sunday while they were sitting on the roof of a so-called double-decker bus, has trained the lens on the very hazards of the vehicle itself.

In order to make a fast buck, most operators of long-distance buses fabricate illegal “sleeper seats” over the normal seats right after purchasing the chassis, using aluminium sheets and plywood to elevate the height of the vehicle from a normal 10.5 feet to around 14 feet.

If people clamber on the roof of a bus that is taller than normal, they run the risk of fatally brushing against low overhead electricity wires.

Too cramped to offer passengers a comfortable night’s sleep, the sleeper seats — most long-distance buses plying at night have eight each — nonetheless offer passengers the option of stretching their legs and hence are priced at a premium.

If a “sitting seat” costs Rs 100, its sleeper counterpart can cost double or more.

These sleeper seats are hidden from authorities and hence not taxed. And, this flow of non-taxable extra income is the reason why almost all long-distance buses at night construct the sleeper seats.

But, tax evasion apart, operators run the risk of accidents when they increase the height of vehicles, evident in the kanwariya electrocution.

When The Telegraph team went to investigate the matter at the district transport office in Bokaro, it saw that the buses were registered as normal commercial vehicles.

Transporters, who pay tax according to the number of seats, officially claim the place inside the bus just above the rows of seats is used to store luggage only.

But a talk with staffers at Bokaro bus stand revealed the real picture. “We charge double the fare for these sleepers,” said a conductor of a long-distance bus to Dumka. “Everyone does it,” he added.

Another staffer said hundreds of long-distance buses with sleeper seats run from Ranchi, Dhanbad, Jamshedpur, Hazaribagh, Dumka and Bokaro. “It is the norm now. Passengers travelling overnight also want the facility. There’s demand, so there’s supply,” he said.

“This is a serious problem and it must be checked. Constructing sleepers is both illegal and hazardous. There has been an accident and the issue has been raised but once some time passes, it should not be swept under the carpet,” Bokaro deputy commissioner Uma Shankar Singh said.

Bokaro district transport officer Jaideep Tigga claimed surprise over the illegal structures as buses were registered “normally”.

“Raids on these so-called double-deckers will start from tonight. We should also have checked this wrong and illegal practice before,” he said, thanking The Telegraph for pointing out the structures.