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Gujrat tragedy stirs panic among parents

Updated May 27, 2013
A woman mourns near a child's casket on the outskirts of Gujrat, 100 miles southeast of Islamabad, May 25, 2013. — Photo by Reuters
A woman mourns near a child's casket on the outskirts of Gujrat, 100 miles southeast of Islamabad, May 25, 2013. — Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD, May 26: The incident of Gujrat in which 14 children died has created panic among parents, especially those who send their children through private school vans.

Parents have demanded that there should be a proper system to check on those persons who have been using vans to provide pick-and-drop facility to school going children.

It is pertinent to mention that 14 children and a teacher were burned to death in a village near Gujrat on Saturday when a faulty gas cylinder exploded in the van taking them to school. Seven children were also injured in the explosion as the van caught fire.

Maqbool Ahmed, father of school going children, said the incident highlighted by the media had severely affected him and his family.

“My wife is depressed since Saturday and is not willing to send our children in a private van. Although I also have concerns but I tried to convince her that the standards of vehicles being used for pick-and-drop service in Islamabad are better than those in other areas of country, she is not ready to send children in van,” he said.

“My children study in Islamabad Model School I-8/3, and have been using the van for the last two years. If my wife keeps showing concerns, I will start dropping them in my car but it will increase my expenses because van driver charges Rs2,400 for two children. Besides, it will become difficult to be punctual for my own work,” he said.

Another concerned resident, Uzair Ahmed said some transporters purchased vehicles and others got them on installments from private people. Most of the vehicles were in a bad condition and should not be used for transportation, as 10 to 20 students traveled in each and it could become risky.

Muhammad Yasir, a transporter who provides pick-and-drop service from I-9 to G-10 and G-11 Schools said because of the absence of proper mechanism, most vehicles being used for school going children were in terrible condition.

“I have a 2008 model High Roof which is worth Rs 800,000 and I pick and drop 12 children in one go, but some drivers prefer to buy two vehicles in the same amount to increase their profit. Those old vehicles can be dangerous,” he said.

He added that the administration should have a proper check on vehicles as the lives of children were associated with the quality of those vehicles.

Arshad Khokhar, a transporter who provides the facility from Khayaban-e-Sir-Syed to sector I-8, said he had converted a Shehzore Truck into a school van by fixing a cabin on it.

“I have 56 students and I drop them in two shifts. I regularly maintain my vehicle to avoid any mishap,” he said.

An assistant commissioner of the federal capital, requesting not to be identified, said unfortunately it had become routine to correct mistakes after incidents.

“In September 2011, a bus carrying students of Faisalabad caught fire near Kallar Kahar due to which over 30 students died. In the end it was learnt that bus was allowed to enter on motorway without a fitness certificate,” he said.

He said the same thing happened after the incident of Margalla Towers in 2005; everyone suggested building codes, emergency exits and fire security systems, but after the passage of some time, all authorities forgot it.

“We have a proper system that public transporters should get fitness certificates for vehicles and laboratory tests should be done regarding smoke emission. It was even proposed that a ban on cabs older than 10 years should be placed in order to assure security of citizens, but could not be implemented,” he said.

The assistant commissioner said decision makers sent their children to educational institutions in official cars.

They did not care about private vans providing transport services because only middle and lower-middle class used those vans.

President of Private School Association Malik Ibrar said that it was a tragic incident and the association had decided to ensure that every driver who provided pick-and-drop submitted a fitness certificate to the school.

“We will not allow them to park or pick any student without having a fitness certificate as security and safety of students is our first priority,” he said.

“We have also decided to observe a mourning day on Monday in all schools and hold prayers for the students who died in Gujrat,” he said.