The Bombay High Court on Wednesday summoned the additional commissioner of the Maharashtra transport department after it was brought to the court's notice that the government had recently issued a resolution that effectively nullified a previous high court order regulating school buses.
In the resolution, the state permitted three-wheelers and vans with a seating capacity of less than 12 persons to ferry children to and from their schools, whereas the central government's notification from last year had defined "school buses" as vehicles that have a seating capacity of 13 passengers and more, excluding the driver.
As per the Central and state government rules " the Central Motor Vehicle Rules " these buses must be specifically designed and constructed, and must conform to all safety rules and features.
A bench of Justices Naresh Patil and GS Kulkarni directed additional commissioner SB Sahrasrabuddhe to remain present in the court on Wednesday over the government resolution (GR) that was issued by the transport department on 19 May this year.
The court asked why, if there were specific rules framed for school buses, had such modifications been brought in by the state government.
According to a report by The Times of India, Sahasrabuddhe cited the Maharashtra Motor Vehicles (Regulations for School Buses) Rules, 2011, to allow auto-rickshaws and vehicles up to 12 seats to be issued permits as school buses.
The high court has been hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) United Forum, which was filed in 2016. The Hindu reported that the petition states that transport authorities have been granting permits to vans without insisting on an agreement between the school and the operator. It also stated that drivers of such vehicles often do not have the required minimum experience.
Advocate Rama Subramanium informed the court that the forum had found that 250 vehicles were plying and transporting school children in banned light motor vehicles that had less than 13 seats.
Justice Patil said that the department was making a statement in court about cracking down on smaller vehicles plying illegally as school buses, while issuing contrary orders, the Times of India reported.
"This resolution nullifies this court's previous orders. What was the rationale behind permitting these vehicles to ply as school buses? Let the concerned officer remain present before us and explain," the bench observed.
At last hearing, the court directed the state to take action against private school bus owners who were not following safety measures prescribed by the state government, The Asian Age reported.
With inputs from PTI