Life at stake
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.