September 2, 2015
Overloaded auto rickshaws are a common sight during school hours. Drivers continue with this practise in spite of regular crackdowns by the police and regional transport offices. Though an auto is allowed to carry only three passengers, overloading is common. If the children are below 12 years of age, six of them can be accommodated in an auto irrespective of whether it is the smaller Lambretta or the bigger Piaggio.
“There needs to be three-pronged approach to the problem. Parents, teachers and authorities need to be involved. Schools need to inform parents about the issue. Even the Principal of the school can take up the problem with the parent,” says C.M.J. Raman, Coordinator, Citizens Voice Club.
In July 2012, the Supreme Court ordered that autos should not be overloaded. It said that only five children could be carried in an auto at a time. Prior to the order, as many as seven children used to be carried.
In light of the order, P. K. Sukumaran, District Secretary of the an auto union, wanted the rules to be reconsidered in modern vehicles like Ape, Alpha etc., as these vehicle had more space.
“Auto drivers do approach the RTO for tax emption for the school trip. So the RTO can easily crackdown on erring vehicles,” says A. Manoj, a civic activist.
It is well known that school trips are regular income for auto drivers, who prefer to ply to schools than carry individual passengers. “Auto unions regularly demand that they be allowed to carry more passengers,” says Manoj.
“Though orders on helmet use and tinted glasses are being implemented, authorities are not able to regulate overloading autos,” says Raman.
Children themselves seem to be unaware of the dangers involved. Autos with bags and bottles hanging out are a problem for other vehicles too. Children too can be seen sitting on the edge of autos without being aware of the risk it poses.
Meanwhile, maxi cabs can carry as many as 15 students in a trip. On August 7, 2012, representatives of various auto unions met the then District Collector and requested him to permit them carry 10 persons during a trip.
Parents say they allow their children to be sent in auto rickshaws as it is cheaper than the school bus. “We save about Rs. 500 a month by choosing an auto,” says Radha, parent of a 12-year-old.
Authorities were not available for comment.