TRANSPORT in many of Pakistan’s cities has become a serious public safety issue, endangering countless lives each day. From rickety, over-loaded busses to hard-pressed wagons and vans, the lack of decent public transport is an increasingly urgent issue — given that, without it, people are left to fend for themselves in private vehicles that are neither inspected for safety, nor for the competence of their drivers.
The latest reminder of this came on Saturday, when in Karachi’s Orangi Town a school van carrying children caught fire, reportedly because of faulty wiring. It appears that the van was stuck in gravel and, as the driver gunned the engine to escape the trap, the vehicle may have overheated. Four children were injured. While it is believable that, as he maintains, the driver helped the children present in his carriage, it is also true that the lack of reliable and safe public transport is the reason such sad incidents occur. The following day, the police booked the driver of this particular van, with the relevant station house officer confirming that a case has been registered under sections of the Pakistan Penal Code relating to causing hurt by mistake, and causing damage. Certainly, a thorough investigation is needed to ascertain where exactly the blame lies — a malfunctioning vehicle, a gravel pit that ought not to have been there in the first place, or driving incapacity. But beyond that lies the fact that the children in the van, particularly those injured, are faced with the challenge of recovering from such a traumatic experience. This is far from the first time that children have been put at grave risk by irresponsible private-vehicle owners; there have been all too many school van tragedies caused by CNG-cylinder blasts and terrifying accidents. The only solution lies in the state — or each province — finding within itself the capacity to set up reliable public transport systems that are operated under inspection and supervision mechanisms. Without that, citizens old and young will always be at risk.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2019