GUJRAT, May 26: A duty magistrate on Sunday granted three-day physical remand of the driver of the van that caught fire near Mungowal on Saturday, resulting in tragic deaths of 14 schoolchildren and their female teacher.

Kunjah police produced the accused driver, Arfan, before the magistrate who granted his physical remand till May 29. The police had registered a case against the accused under section 322 of the PPC (Punishment for qatl bis-sabab) on Saturday.

DCO Asif Lodhi told Dawn the private school owner who also owned the gutted van had also been arrested and was being interrogated, while the school’s registration had been cancelled for flouting the government orders of two weekly holidays.

Official sources told Dawn the Punjab’s caretaker Chief Minister Najam Sethi was likely to visit Gujrat soon to condole with the families of the victims and to give Rs0.5 million compensation cheques each. Those injured in the incident would be given Rs75,000 each.

Commissioner Gujranwala Tariq Najeeb Najmi and Regional Police Officer Khuda Bakhsh Awan visited Gujrat on Sunday and were briefed about the tragedy by DCO Asif Lodhi and DPO Dar Ali Khatak in a meeting at the district government complex.

Later the both officers went to Mungowal and inspected the site of the accident, besides visiting the bereaved families. They also went to the Kharian Combined Military Hospital to inquire after the injured.

At a news conference, the commissioner said the Punjab government had constituted a committee comprising him and Gujranwala additional commissioner, Punjab transport planner and Gujranwala SP (traffic) and to probe into the incident and submit its findings within a week. The committee would ascertain the causes of the incident and make recommendations to avoid such tragedies in future.

Meanwhile, PML-Q senior leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi also visited the bereaved families in the four villages of Mungowal area to condole the deaths of the schoolchildren. He offered Fateha for the departed souls and also gave Rs 50,000 to each of the affected family.

It’s never too late Reacting, as usual, late to an alarming situation, almost always after a tragic incident occurred, the administration has decided to verify the fitness certificates of as many as 2,000 vehicles being used for providing pick-and-drop service to students of various educational institutions in the district.

The decision was taken after it was revealed that the fitness certificate of the van carrying the schoolchildren who died on Saturday had expired in last week of last April while the vehicle was also without a route permit.

The administration on Sunday launched a major crackdown in the district to detect the public transport vehicles fitted with plastic petrol cans instead of regular fuel tanks.

Around a dozen of such vehicles have been impounded here while cases have also been registered against their drivers and owners.

The practice of using plastic cans instead of regular fuel tanks in public transport became popular, especially with the owners of buses and vans recently because of shortage of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).

A local transport department official said since CNG had become a major fuel source for these vehicles for being cost-effective, the transporters almost abandoned the use of petrol. This, he said, mostly resulted in choking of petrol line of the vehicles’ engines.

He said following interruptions in CNG supplies, ill-advised vehicle owners resorted to use of plastic cans instead of getting repaired the petrol lines or replacing their old fuel tanks with the new ones. This would save them expenditures to be incurred on the replacements and repairs, he added.

The officials said usually the owners would get installed a plastic can inside the vehicle that was connected to its engine’s fuel line. He said it was a dangerous innovation that entailed the risk of any spark in the engine causing a fire. He said the practice should be checked as early and strictly as possible.

DCO Asif Lodhi said it was not possible for a single motor vehicle examiner in the district to check each and every vehicle for such violation. He claimed that roads in the district were “regularly picketed” by the local road transport authority officials, in collaboration with the traffic police, to check such irregularities.

He said besides implementing a working plan to curb use of plastic cans instead of fuel tanks in vehicles, the administration was also raiding the outlets selling loose petrol without license.

He said notices had already been issued to some 4,000 private schools in the district to get verified the fitness certificates of vehicles being used for pick-and-drop facility within two days.

He said it had also been recommended to the Punjab government to reduce the six-month limit of the vehicles’ fitness certificate to three months period.

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