Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rising from the Ashes

It took two blazing buses and over fifty passengers being charred to death to wake the Karnataka RTO up and make them at the very least begin to yawn.  For decades private buses have been plying on Indian roads with untrained drivers at the helm. Sporting licenses with suspicious origins and driving buses which probably have never made a trip to the RTO for registration; these drivers have been anything but professional when it comes to driving. Refurbishing buses from the scrap yard and violating every single rule in the book, these accidents were waiting to happen.

Source: dnaindia.com
The RTOs have conveniently ignored these monsters on the roads; until now that is. With two back-to-back fires within a fortnight of each other they have had no choice but to sit up and make an attempt at getting their act together. It is not an easy task that lays ahead of them, training drivers and bringing in discipline but then a stitch in time might have minimized the need for such an activity in the first place.

The amends seem to have begun- driving refresher courses and videos that show safety procedures very similar to the air hostess jig we get to see on flights. The RTO assures that within a stipulated time period private travel operators will begin to adopt these measures. Meanwhile they will do their bit by mandating a driving course along with medical emergency trainings for drivers seeking new licenses with them.

Safety procedure videos onboard bus sounds fine enough. All the drivers need to do is play the CD before they begin their nightly dose of Bollywood/Kollywood/Sandalwood dramas. What about those buses which have no screen to boast about? The RTO has covered that ground as well. In the absence of video, the tour operators are being mandated to conduct a manual demonstration. Now that would be a sight to see wouldn't it? Imagine those hefty khaki clad conductors/drivers with sleeves rolled up and a beedi sticking out of their mouths.  Next picture these very menacing looking fellas trying on the life jackets and seat belts and swirling and swishing around pointing out the emergency exits. All that would be missing is a dash of red lipstick and an hour glass figure.

As funny as that picture might seem, will the customers care for it or the videos in any way? Whether these processes are adhered to or not, will customers raise an objection? Buses ply in rural as much as they do in urban areas, how many passengers from smaller towns and villages will be aware of such mandates?

To lend authenticity to the initiative, the RTO has announced a tie up with Ashok Leyland, Tata and Volvo to conduct refresher courses. In an initial exercise, drivers were taught about defensive driving, safety requirements, and how to operate the emergency exit among other things. Speaking of mandatory driving courses and medical emergency trainings, it is indeed a concept much welcomed and one that should have been introduced eons ago if not earlier. The question is whether it will hold any value and have any impact now.

How much of a difference will these courses make to the driver’s conscience? How many of these private bus drivers actually approach the RTOs personally for the license? Of the few who do, how many will not creep a few notes into the officers pocket and whistle their way out? While these steps are being taken, how will they be measured? Karnataka alone boasts of a fleet of over 8000 government buses. There is an equal or greater number of private buses out there that drive on interstate as well as intrastate routes, how will the office be able to monitor the adherence to the rules and the impact they cause?
Source: Oneindia.in


So the RTO must be quite happy with the press announcement. Conjuring two “revolutionary” measures out of thin air is no mean joke. While they party and rejoice, there is (yet) another question that bothers the worried mind – what about controls on the cargo that these buses carry each day? The amount of baggage they carry other than that belonging to passengers is humongous and tends to take a toll on the infrastructure available to carry the load. Or is that not supposed to be dangerous enough to cause disasters that can kill?
Pessimist as it might sound, these are questions that exist and continue to remain unanswered.

Not to be left out from the limelight, travel portal Redbus.in has decided to pitch in as well.  The CEO claims that each travel operator seeking to register with the portal undergoes a background check on aspects such as the availability of an emergency exit and a first aid box. Unless they meet Redbus’s qualification criteria they will not be allowed on board. Users are also being urged to leave reviews and ratings on how their journey had been; if the driver was rash etc. Taking it a step forward Redbus now intends to track the driving speeds through GPS enabled phones belonging to the passengers. On paper it does sound too good to be true but once those journeys begin will the bus operators allow such monitoring to happen?

Karnataka RTO seems to have finally woken up, but have the rest of the RTOs across the country? Private bus operators are in large numbers all across and flout rules everywhere. A bus inferno can happen anywhere just as it did here.

Regardless of whether the action taken by Karnataka will create an impact or not, it would be meaningless in the larger scheme of things if other RTOs do not learn their lesson and begin taking such measures proactively. Equally hollow it would be if the very drivers in question did not take the initiatives seriously and begin to lead a new life as far as driving on the roads is concerned. 

The value of life in this populous country has always been suspect. Despite the pessimism which questions the sustainability of any initiative taken to protect life, the steps are always welcomed with open arms with the hope that things will work out for the better and optimism will rise out of the ashes of such incidents... 
If only it would.


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30 comments:

  1. Valid points you have raised, Seeta. Hope your Post serves as a wake-up call and authorities take action...

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    1. Hope so too Anita.. it is a rather sad state of affairs...

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  2. LOL...I loved that comparison of bus driver with air hostess :D Anyway, you are right. How much impact these measures will make is yet to see.

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    1. :) glad you liked that. and yes the question remains.. will it work :|

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  3. In India even waking after two tragedies followed by fireworks ought to be lauded--don't you think?Let us see how long these resolutions last.

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    1. Absolutely true, question is whether it will be sustained.. which going by history..it will not :(

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  4. Very tragic incidents both and it took so many lives to sit up and make remedies.How long they take to be implemented is to be seen.

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    1. Completely agree Indrani.. the fact that there is no coverage post the incidents speaks volumes too..

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  5. Setting new regulations is good as long as there's a procedure to ensure the new rules are followed.

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    1. Very true and in our country creating procedures and adhering to them is a rarity isnt it..

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  6. Tragic about those lives lost in buses on fire. The measures they recommend look good on paper and I hope they will be implemented by bus owners. Is there no way for customers to insist they do?

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    1. That's an absolutely crucial point.. customers. Yes, it will work to a large extent if customers stay firm on their ground but that is not always the case here. People who do not take life for granted are and comply with the law and order are in a minority. The typical mentality is "Nothing can happen to me".. hopefully such incidents will be a wake up call for such customers..
      Thanks for stopping by! :)

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  7. You bring out one important perspective - that of the passenger's. Do we as travellers really worry as much about the safety and road-worthiness of the buses? Do we, in the absence of safety mechanisms prevent a bus from plying?

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    1. Exactly, the fault lies as much with us customers as it does with the authorities.. If only we would step up, the authorities might not take things for granted.. read my comment above for more..

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  8. We wake up for a while after an accident. Then we go back to sleep again till another one happens. I hope this will change.

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    1. Yup... not just the authorities... we the citizens (who are the customers) as well.. :|

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  9. In a country as big as ours is, it is not easy to bring about changes as easily and as effectively as we would want. Onus also rests on us. Good thing is that the youths of today r more proactive. So there is hope on the cards

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    1. Very true RItesh. There are silver linings in the cloud like you said, lets hope for the best :)

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  10. I read this news and felt very sad. Because as a travel junkie I rely a lot on volvo buses. I felt scared too. And Seeta I can understand your aggression because in this country we have seen enough to know the harsh realities of its working...

    Richa

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    1. Exactly... I travel by bus a lot... so it does seed that doubt in your mind.. :|

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  11. All very valid concerns, My take on this :
    It seems a bit harsh just blaming the drivers for the cause of these accidents. Do you know that if you want to take a government bus from Bangalore to Goa the KSRTC bus just keeps one driver ? It's an understanding between the driver and the conductor(yes the conductor !) to share the burden of driving, so imagine the kind of stress and sleeplessness these drivers are subjected to.
    Just getting the drivers trained might not be a solution for this problem, much more in terms of road safety, highway patrols and most important of all accountability to the operators needs to come into place.
    Having said that, the steps being taken are definitely in the right direction.

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    1. Interesting! I wasnt aware of that, I always thought there were two drivers, one of which doubled as the conductor.. esp. coming from KSRTC, who I thought was a saving grace as far as state road transport is concerned.... sure is a dampner! :(

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    2. In a way, it could be a willful step taken by the driver-conductor duo to take care of each others' safety and in turn that of the passengers. So one would certainly not mind the first row being taken exclusively by them to rest and get some sleep!

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  12. These things are done in a rush to calm people who are extremely angry. But like everything else, everything goes back to the status quo almost immediately. After all, who is going to ensure that the new rules will be implemented?

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    1. So true! Yet, I think its upto us customers as well to do their bit to sustain these mandates, something most of the larger user base will not bother about. At the same time I just read the comment put up just before yours by Aragorn.. well if thats how authorities will behave nothing can work right :|

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  13. Such a sorry state in our country. I read the same story of carelessness again and again in different formats. When will we learn?

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  14. No idea Saru... unfortunately no idea at all :|

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  15. I only had 5 driving lessons. The coach was really wise and told me to look out for everything. There was about a month in between my second and third lesson because I had to go out.

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