Life at stake

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

Af­ter a school bus in the Orangi Town area of Karachi caught fire, at least eight kids on their way to school suf­fered burn in­juries. The most crit­i­cally in­jured kids were shifted to the Burns Units of the Civil Hos­pi­tal. Such ac­ci­dents have hap­pened in the past as well, in­volv­ing school buses and lead­ing to some­times­fa­tal in­juries to chil­dren.

The po­lice have ruled out the state­ment of the bus con­duc­tor that the fire was caused by an LPG cylin­der burst­ing, and have said that an elec­tri­cal short-cir­cuit was the most likely cause of the blaze. This also raises ques­tions about how well the ve­hi­cle was main­tained and in what con­di­tion it was at the time of the fire.

Each day we see chil­dren some­times cling­ing on to the outer rail­ings of rick­ety wag­ons or crammed into flimsy rick­shaws, mak­ing their way to school or back. The school in ques­tion has stated that it did not own the bus but had given out a con­tract to trans­port chil­dren to and from the school. This is an in­creas­ingly com­mon prac­tice. There are also many pri­vate van own­ers who of­fer ser­vices for chil­dren or col­lege stu­dents trav­el­ling to their ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

The is­sue here is the need to reg­u­late trans­port for at least our school­child­ren. Decades ago, the gov­ern­ment ran spe­cial buses for school­child­ren in ma­jor cities. Pri­vate schools also of­fered trans­port, though many have now aban­doned this prac­tice on the grounds of se­cu­rity and in some cases lo­gis­tics. While se­cu­rity is­sues can­not be ig­nored, it is im­per­a­tive that schools be made re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing that any ve­hi­cle they con­tract is safe, in good con­di­tion and driven by li­censed trained op­er­a­tor. In many coun­tries around the world, school buses run by state author­i­ties also have on-board per­son­nel who can of­fer emer­gency help if a child is in­jured or falls sick.

Life is of course of far less value in our coun­try - es­pe­cially when it be­longs to chil­dren whose par­ents lack the abil­ity to buy pri­vate cars and hire chauf­feurs who can drive their chil­dren to school. There has to be some mech­a­nism to en­sure that pri­vate buses, wag­ons, vans and other ve­hi­cles tak­ing chil­dren to schools are in­spected for safety so that tragedies like the one seen in Karachi can be averted. The onus for this falls on both schools and our traf­fic author­i­ties who are sup­posed to do ve­hi­cle health checks.

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