Right2Information

Right to Information – Master key to good governance

When babus turn kids into guinea pigs

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 20, 2006

When babus turn kids into guinea pigs

Times of India, Ahmedabad
20.7.2006
– Rahul Mangaonkar

Had it not been for the Right to Information (RTI) Act, one might not have known how our babus stumbled upon a formula to decide on the number of school children who can be accommodated in an autorickshaw. Under the RTI, copies of all circulars issued on this crucial issue by the office of the transport commissioner were sought, which not only revealed the absurd directives, but also a bizarre ‘experiment’.

The need for an experiment arose because of a government circular of July 9, 1996 that allowed regional transport offices (RTOs) to decide on the number of school children in an autorickshaw. So, Ahmedabad allowed 10, while Vadodara allowed 12, sparking off representations from auto associations in districts, where fewer number of childrenwere allowed to ply. Further, consumer forums and parents associations had complained about overcrowding of autos.

So, to figure out how many children could actually fit in an auto, an experiment was carried out. Children in the age group of 6 to 12 were called in. In the auto, behind the driver’s seating area, three tyres were fitted and children were asked to fit in. After this, it was decided that if the auto has a carrier on top to carry school bags, 10 children would be allowed. If there was no carrier and if the bags are hung behind the rickshaw or kept inside, nine children could be accommodated. Sounds strange? But the logic behind this experiment was not explained by the babus responding to the queries made under the RTI. Then again, the contents of the circulars issued over the years reveal a tale of absurdity. From 1996 to 2006, various circulars have decided on how children should go to school every day.

From 1996 to the summer of 2000, auto owners seemed to go about their business showing scant respect for norms. For four years, babus allowed children to be packed like sardines, and then the transport department woke up to pass another circular, this time to set a fixed seating capacity for the children. The circular of May 18, 2000, stated that in normal circumstances, a maximum of six children could be carried in an auto. School bags and water bottles could not be hung on either side of the auto and no child would be allowed on the driver’s seat.

Finally, on March 3, 2006, Guruprasad Mohapatra, state transport commissioner, ruled in favour of the safety of children. His circular states, “As per Gujarat Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, children below 12 would be considered ‘half ‘, and therefore if three adults are allowed in a rickshaw, not more than six children should be allowed. Allowing more children would not be considered proper, considering the safety, convenience and comfort aspects. This circular cancels all other circulars made on this subject in the past.” However, with the circular having been issued in March, why they had to wait till June to make a public announcement, is perplexing.

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