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In school bus scan, reason to shudder

Calcutta: The sense of unease among parents about the safety of school transport in Calcutta has been heightened by the transport department seizing a dozen buses and 30 pool cars for not complying with roadworthiness norms or plying without valid permits.

Several parents that Metro spoke to on Friday said that school buses being seized for violation of norms had shattered their belief that they were better regulated than pool cars, which operate independently of institutions and are mostly unsupervised.

"It is expected that schools would be clear about compliance and not have defaulter transport agencies supplying buses to ferry schoolchildren. But it now appears that school buses are as guilty of flouting rules as pool cars," said a worried parent with two children travelling by bus.

The seized and grounded buses had been ferrying students of some of the city's reputable institutions, including South Point, Gokhale Memorial Girls' School, Don Bosco School Park Circus, DPS Ruby Park and St John's Diocesan Girls' Higher Secondary School.

"For the first few years, I would drop my child at school and pick her up. But that became difficult when her school timings changed. I work in an office and it is not always feasible to step out, so I opted for a school bus. It is really scary for us parents to learn that even school buses do not meet safety criteria," said the mother of a Class II girl.

Another parent said schools should be made accountable for lapses, although most of them tend to pass the buck to the transport agencies that provide the buses.

"I get an alert on my phone every day after my daughter gets off her school bus at the designated stop nearest to our home. The message gives me peace of mind, but it is disconcerting to hear that there might be other safety issues. I am scared now that some school buses have been seized," he said.

The parent, whose daughter is in Class VI, said the least that her school could have done was check the documentation of school buses at regular intervals along with the credentials of the drivers.

According to a senior official of the public vehicles department, the majority of schools that have outsourced transport don't bother going beyond superficial monitoring. "Whenever there is a meeting with the agencies or the vendors, the topic of discussion is safety and whether there have been complaints from parents. Rarely do they discuss the condition of buses, which is integral to road safety," he said.

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