Ganapathi Bhat, Akola
In India, some tragedies are almost waiting to happen. The all important, and avoidable, human error coupled with laxity on the part of local and central administration have added to the woes of the unsuspecting victims. Lack of application of mind is perhaps the singular cause of an avoidable tragedy. The ghastly school van train collision in Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh is an example of how callous minds and lackadaisical school managements can snuff out tender lives within no time. According to eye witnesses, the drive of the “van” was blissfully hearing music tracks with his earphones on. He reportedly did not pay heed to the warnings of the “gate mitra”, a government appointed volunteer in unmanned crossings, and rode on to the tracks. Even the school kids were apparently pleading with the driver to hold on but to no avail. It is also very unusual that the approaching Siwan–Gorakhpur Passenger train was not actually visible to the driver some 800 metres from the road. Was there a stop-gap arrangement because if indeed it was a regular then it should have been in the knowhow of train timings in the area arguably a small one. Was it sheer brashness, on the part of the driver who was reportedly a minor and did not even possess a valid driver’s licence? Obviously, the school management cared two hoots while choosing a driver to transport the kids. The very thought that the driver may not have been one trained to be in the profession makes one’s blood boil. The ill-fated “van” was supposedly a refurbished goods carrying vehicle. It may also be true that the “van” exceeded its capacity because the school did not have much vehicles for children to commute. UP is said to have more than 1,300 Unmanned Level Crossings (UMLC) as on April 2016 in a country which aims “zero UMLC” by March 31, 2020. Undeniably, loss of lives due to UMLC have reduced over the years though the Railways still has a job on its hands. It should induct more “Gate Mitras” to warn the reckless surface drivers. Appropriate warning boards have to be put in place on either sides of the road well before the UMLC to alert the drivers. While the Railways is doing its best to eliminate the UMLC, section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Act (MVC) puts the onus on the drivers to check for approaching trains. But only a collective responsibility can prevent UMLC deaths.