The tragic event at Jogeshwari, Mumbai (West) where four children were burnt to death is part of a larger problem , constantly overlooked by concerned authorities .
The gas-driven Maruti Omni van was ferrying young school kids when the driver noticed flames on starting the van. As he tried to rescue the children at the back of the van, they being in closer proximity to the gas cylinder, four children seated in the front tragically succumbed to burn injuries.
It is not an unusual sight; auto rickshaws speeding down a suburban road with 10 children crammed inside or jam-packed vans and jeeps. In spite of the availability of school buses, parents hire vans, jeeps, taxis, and cars to get their children to school and back. "Hiring a private vehicle along with other parents in our society was a convenient option for us as the school is just 15 minutes away and the school bus service is not necessary in such a case," says Trupti Acharya, a parent from Dahisar.
"Since both of us are working and their grandparents cannot walk them to school everyday, this is the best option for us."
For some like 10-year old Swati Angne, it's the same story of pushing and shoving in a private jeep to get a drop home. The Std V student used the school bus earlier, but her parents now prefer she travels in a jeep with 15 other children.
"The school bus arrives at an inconvenient time and since both of us are working, we were not able to send her at the enforced time," says Swati's mother Kinjal Angne.
Still, most parents remain unaware of the conditions in which their children travel.
"My seven-year-old child used to go to his school in an auto rickshaw along with six other children," says Pawan Chaturvedi from Chembur. But when Chaturvedi's son, a student of Holy Family High School, complained of back pain due to the uncomfortable seating, Chaturvedi put him in a school bus.
"Though it takes a long time to reach home, at least he is safe," he says .
Meanwhile, the driver of the van , Jabbar Qureshi has been arrested by the Oshiwara police . Qureshi had bought the van second hand a few months back and converted it to run on LPG. Though he had obtained RTO clearances for the conversion , he had not got the permission to use the vehicle as a public carrier.
LPG is said to be extremely hazardous and even a small pinhole leak can lead to an accumulation of gas in a confined area as it will not dissipate or evaporate easily, being heavier than air.