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When the young die on the road

 | June 28, 2013

What is horribly wrong in Chennai is the rank irresponsibility of schools that charge bombastic fees and yet remain uncaring to the plight of their students.

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Nothing can be more tragic than death on the road. Nothing can be crueller if that death happens to be that of a child. And nothing can be more callous if that could have been prevented.

On Wednesday, just a day after his 14th birthday, a class nine boy, Deepak, died when the van he and many other children were travelling to school toppled on a flyover in Chennai.

The van driver and owner, Saravanan, got a call on his mobile telephone. He parked the vehicle near a petrol station and asked a former lorry driver, Mahesh, to drive the students to the school.

On the flyover, Mahesh was talking to a friend riding a two-wheeler next to the van, when it crashed into a road divider and toppled. Mahesh ran away leaving the children behind.

Deepak was grievously hurt and died on his way to hospital. The others escaped death, though some of them were injured.

The story is nothing new. Men who have no business to drive, certainly children, do so with sickening regularity endangering young lives. These men could even be without valid driving licences.

What is horribly wrong in Chennai is the rank irresponsibility of schools that charge bombastic fees and yet remain uncaring to the plight of their students.

Some months ago, the Tamil Nadu (whose capital city is Chennai) government laid down strict guidelines for school-buses so that the safety and wellbeing of children who travel by them could be ensured.

The schools, instead of adhering to the new regulations, which could have cost the institutions some additional money for the maintenance of their buses, decided to abolish the system itself – leaving parents at the mercy of privately operated vans.

The police contend that they do not yet have a system to rein in the vans. Till then, many more young lives could be lost.

Deepak’s death was the latest in a series of such horrifying accidents involving schoolchildren and the vans they use to reach their schools.

Candlelight protest

Chennai’s schools, and these include the most renowned ones, have a hands-off attitude that smacks of recklessness.

In my long years in this city, I have written about how unreliable schools are when it comes to the safety of their students.

I remember cases of very young children missing from school; they would have walked out of the gates in all their childish innocence while the ill-paid and undernourished guards would have been sleeping at their posts!

The abolition of school-buses is the latest form of thoughtlessness on the part of the schools, which do not care how their hundreds of students commute.

It is imperative that the state administration cracks the whip. The government must not only be brutally strict in making sure that school-vans are driven by men who have an accident-free record, but also bring about legislation which will make it obligatory for the schools to act with greater accountability.

A part of this should be to make it mandatory for the schools to get back to running their own buses.

Also, it about time Chennai shook itself out of the complacency it has sunk into in recent years. Parents must come together to force the schools to go that extra mile to keep the children safe.

Why not a candlelight protest for Deepak? And long prison terms for the drivers?

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]


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