For all its economic prowess and image as a modern state, Goa isn’t exactly like a place in the world where traffic tends to be orderly and governance purposeful. Many things happen here without the knowledge of those at the helm of affairs and Goa’s roads are the best example of creative disorder, where motorists employ ‘creative’ methods to get ahead of others.
Almost always, those responsible for traffic safety wake up at odd times to instill a dose of order into the system. And the sudden flurry of interest shown in monitoring school buses represents one of those odd times. Reports indicate that inspectors of the Road Transport Office have, without warning, started inspecting buses, jeeps, vans and other modes of transport used to ferry students to schools. When the government gets cracking it always seems like a threat and vehicle owners are now a worried lot.
Why the RTO thought of undertaking this measure in the middle of the monsoon when the state witnesses torrential showers is a mystery. Couldn’t this have waited for a couple of months? If the director of transport is to be believed, there is an order of the Supreme Court hanging over his head like a sword. The order, issued after a major school bus mishap in 2007 in New Delhi, lays down certain conditions to be followed by bus owners who ferry students to school. Any sort of order that enhances the safety of children and introduces better travel conditions has to be enforced. Kerala and Karnataka have already implemented the order and Goa apparently is lagging behind. The transport department has prepared a draft of the state school bus rules which is being vetted by the law department. That being the case would it not have been better to wait for the rules to come into force before sending out the inspectors?
And does one really need to talk or act as though school bus drivers are an unruly lot with scant respect for road rules or safety of students? Since public transport failed to keep pace with the requirements of school-going children, private entrepreneurs stepped in to provide this service. This gradually developed into an arena for business and today there are a lot of vehicles – jeeps, vans and mini buses which double as school buses. The service they provide is invaluable although one might want to haggle over the price charged. Surely there must be a way of implementing the Supreme Court order without stepping on bus owners’ toes.
Among the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court are installation of speed governors, employing drivers with at least five years of driving experience, compulsory display of the ‘school bus’ sign and yellow colour for all school buses. Of these, speed governors and a yellow coat of paint will cost money and vehicle owners are rightfully worried about the additional financial burden. Parents on the other hand are equally perturbed because there is every possibility that this financial burden will be passed on to them.
Of all the guidelines, installation of speed governors and five year experience for the driver have a bearing on safety. The country has a sketchy record when it comes to speed governors. Attempts to get truck and bus owners to fit the same to their vehicles resulted in nation-wide strikes and the scheme was eventually dropped. The government has to therefore be a lot more circumspect when implementing these two measures because the last thing we need is a bus strike in the middle of the monsoons. Private bus transport is not a charitable service and if profits are not assured, the business will dry up and school kids will be worse off. What we suggest is that new vehicles sought to be brought into the business must adhere to the rules and a gradual implementation adopted for older vehicles. The idea is to make all the vehicles compliant with the rules without disrupting service. Also, the government could consider the demand for a subsidy or provide interest free loans to vehicle owners to upgrade their vehicles.