HYDERABAD: Who should take the blame for the death of 14 innocent schoolchildren at Masaiapet in Medak district when a passenger train rammed their bus on Thursday morning?
Is it the driver of the bus for taking it forward even when the Nanded-Hyderabad passenger train was approaching, or the misfortune in the form of the bus stalling in the middle of the tracks? Or, is it the railways for leaving the level crossing unmanned, resulting in the tragedy?
Sources said that 60-year-old bus driver Bikshapathi Goud was hired by the management of Kakatiya Techno School, Toopran, for the day since the regular driver was on duty on another route. Bikshapathi did not notice the speeding train while crossing the railway track as he was reportedly speaking on his mobile phone at that time.
According to shepherd D Bala Mallesh, who was grazing cattle in the fields, he saw students screaming at the driver not to rush through the level crossing as a train was approaching.” The driver might have thought too much about his driving prowess, or he neither heard the shouts of the children properly nor saw the approaching train,” he said.
Another eyewitness Anand Sharma, a teacher at the nearby government school, said the train was scheduled to pass the level crossing at 4 am and the driver might not be expecting it at 9 am as he probably was under the impression that it had already passed the level crossing.
Some others point out that the driver was not very familiar with the route on which he was taking the bus as he was hired for the day. It is also said the driver was taking a shorter and an unfamiliar route.
Transport Department ofifcials, however, said the bus was new to Bikshpathi though he has long experience as driver. The engine stalled when the bus was on the tracks, they said.
DIG Police of Medak-Nizamabad range N Suryanarayana said he cannot hazard a guess as to who was at fault. On the face of it, it appears the driver had failed to take precautions as he approached the unmanned level crossing. Before arriving at a conclusion, one should know at what speed the bus approached the level crossing, he said.
Masaipet sarpanch Madhusudhan Reddy says: “Though about 40 trains pass the village and despite representations, the crossing was left unguarded. Now the railway authorities say they would post a person with a flag and light at the level crossing. They should have done this earlier, not now.”
The railways, however, maintains that it is the responsibility of the road user to check if there is any approaching train before moving a vehicle on to the tracks at an unmanned level crossing and they refer to section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and section 161 of the Railway Act, 1989.Railway officials say that as a part of their safety plan, they intend to close all the unmanned level crossings by 2016.
The officials say they have shut down 500 unmanned level crossings over the last four years with under-passes and there are still about 640 unmanned crossings remaining in South Central Railway zone.
C Ramachandraiah, a social activist, says the railways should wake up to the need of constructing under-passes at all unmanned level crossings immediately and the political leadership too should exert pressure on the railways towards this end.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of red tape in the railways. It takes long for the railways to take a decision and even longer for them to implement it,” he says and adds that schools too should have better buses, qualified crew to run them and organise counselling for the crew to be very careful while negotiating level crossings. Under no circumstances should they be allowed to use cell phones while driving, he says.