At Mumbai’s Aarey Colony: 1,500 students, six buses running at thrice their capacity
A BEST school bus at Aarey Colony. (Express photo)

A TYPICAL scene in Aarey Milk Colony: school bags dangling in the air with their owners clutching the yellow railing on the steps of a BEST bus.

The six BEST buses, plying between Aarey Colony and the BMC schools, are carrying schoolchildren thrice their capacity daily. Students said numerous complaints to teachers have yielded no response.

“This is a 50-seater bus, but 150 to 200 students commute daily. I usually safeguard children by hanging from the back door to ensure that nobody falls out,” said a conductor of a BEST bus that travels to Unit 13 in Aarey Colony.

Six buses have been deputed to transport over 1,500 primary schoolchildren from six schools in Aarey.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) pays a monthly tariff per child to BEST. The bus service started in 2013-14 after stray leopard attacks took place while children were on their way home.

At Mumbai’s Aarey Colony: 1,500 students, six buses running at thrice their capacity
Inside an overcrowded bus ferrying students. (Express photo)

On Thursday, as he lets younger kids take his seat and places himself on the steps of the bus, Class VIII student Muthu Salvar (13) said he usually hangs from the entrance of the bus. “We can’t breathe inside the bus, so I stand here,” he said.

Children are forced sit on the engine bonnet near the driver, squeeze in with multiple children on one seat or precariously hang from the doorway like Muthu. On Thursday, children even hopped onto metal railings of the seat to make space for others.

“My daughter never gets a seat. She goes early to the bus stop to reserve a seat, but it is always so crowded. I can’t ask other children to get up for her,” said Sangeeta Achirnekar, who lives in Adarsh Nagar. Her daughter, Akshita, is a student of Class V.

Class X student Ashvini Maske (15) said it took 20 minutes to reach school from Unit 22, where she resided. “We fear we’ll fall down. The roads are not good. When we tell teachers, they say they can do nothing about it,” she said.

Class V student Asmita Patil (9) said two months ago, two girls were injured while alighting from the bus she travelled in. “They had to be admitted to Jogeshwari Trauma Hospital. I am scared of standing by the door, so I push myself into the crowd,” she said.

The buses travelling to Bangoda and Unit 7 in Aarey are the most crowded. A teacher, on condition of anonymity, said school authorities have not taken the matter to higher civic officials despite numerous complaints.

The BMC has six schools in Aarey Colony – two Tamil medium, two Marathi medium, one Hindi medium and one secondary school.

The primary school principal, Mangla Katkar, said the buses were sufficient for over 1,500 students, but sometimes secondary school students of Classes IX and X also boarded the buses.

“We have not complained to the higher authorities yet,” she said. Secondary school in-charge Shashikant Pawar said students of Classes IX and X were provided BEST bus passes and did not require to board buses meant for primary school students.

When contacted, P South ward officer Chanda Jadhav said no complaint had reached her office. “New BEST buses will be rolled out across Mumbai. We can allocate some to Aarey Colony if required,” she said.

P-South education officer Nisha Yadav said BMC paid BEST a fixed tariff per child per month for transportation during morning and afternoon shifts. “The buses were allotted based on the number of children,” she said. While primary school has over 1,500 kids, secondary school has 150 students.

Sujata Khare, deputy education officer of the BMC, however, said the bus service was started only for children living in faraway padas. “Sometimes students living nearby also board the bus,” she said.

A spokesperson for BEST said, “Our depot should receive a request to increase the number of buses. There is no request from the BMC in Aarey Colony. If the bus is a 50-seater, 150 children must not be allowed in it.”