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Backward in Bangalore
Subir Roy |
July 11, 2005
arents of children going to some of the most well-known schools in Bangalore are going through a culture change. They first furiously protested but now appear to be coming to terms quickly with a new directive by the traffic police.
They are not allowed to drop or pick up their school-going children in their private cars and clog the traffic. This is an issue because these top schools, all venerable institutions, were set up long ago, in what is now the heart of town, on streets that today appear incredibly narrow.
The police ruled that schools should hire BMTC (the state-owned public transport authority) buses to ferry their children and BMTC came forward with an attractive scheme to make this possible.
Parents could still drop their children in cars but then they would have to form car pools and get a special pass from the school. Not for Bangalore's better-off children the comfort and classiness of coming by yourself in your own car.
When the police first announced the plan, the parents were outraged. Their children's safety came first. Wasn't the BMTC responsible for most of the city's accidents? Some parents even went to court but mercifully the court said, give it a try and come back to us after a couple of months.
How is it working out?
Several schools are now organising what they should have done long ago, considering the large campuses they sit on -- making it possible for cars to come right inside the school and drop off or pick up their wards. That way they don't jam the streets.
Initially, when the deadline for the new system approached, the police allowed about a dozen of the schools to delay the introduction of the new system as they were not ready with their bus systems.
This, and the subsequent easing of the issue, point to what was suspected long ago. If the schools took the lead and devised a workable system, parents would fall in line and traffic jams, in a city rapidly becoming famous for them, would be reduced.
The well-known Bangalore schools apparently do not care for what has been ordained by Mumbai's Cathedral School for years now. It has absolutely forbidden parents to drop their children in their cars to school.
An elaborate bussing system is in place. For their part, Bangalore's parents do not or care not to know a thing about what happens in Delhi. For as long as one can remember, children there have been coming to school and going back home in dedicated DTC buses and are none the worse for it.
If anything, the accident record of BMTC is better than that of DTC. But every Delhi parent will swear by the care with which DTC staff have looked after their wards for decades now.
If you think this is an exception and Bangaloreans are for the most part forward looking (I like to think they are), see what is happening on two other safety issues -- wearing a helmet while riding a bike and strapping on your seatbelt if you are in the front seats of your car.
These are mandatory in every sensible city in the world because they are proven safeguards in accidents. Nobody I know has been hauled up yet in Bangalore for not having his seatbelt on.
As for helmets, there hangs a sorry tale. The helmet rule has been making the most tantalising long-awaited entry into the city. Most recently, when it was certain that it would come, it has been put off again, reportedly at the behest of one of its senior most politicians famous for his grouchy face reflecting a permanent sense of disaffection.
Why don't Bangalore's bike riders like wearing helmets? They are uncomfortable and you are hot and sweaty under them, never mind the city's salubrious weather for most of the year.
It is also cleverly argued that you hear less with a helmet on, and that is a traffic hazard. But the drollest reason cited is that helmets bring on early balding! That, as everyone will admit, is a serious matter in a swinging city.
If Bangaloreans cared to find out they would realise that the helmet and seatbelt rules have been in place in Delhi for long. In Mumbai, seatbelts have been mandatory for some time and helmets lately.
In Kolkata, both have been mandatory for some time, making it easier for the cops to earn some extra pocket money, snort the affected.
In Hyderabad, where people drive as if liberation is round the corner, helmets are mandatory though seatbelts are not.
It is only in Chennai that neither of the rules is in place. The helmet rule was on 15 years ago but then some bigwig, like the godfather of Bangalore's politicians, got it removed.
As befits a large country that prides itself on its unity in diversity, there are a lot of models to choose from. It all depends on what you want to be -- forward or backward looking.
The saving grace of Mumbai, for long India's most professional city, is a band of committed and vocal citizens who take their civic duties seriously.
Delhi has always been a split personality. Mostly chaotic but promptly falling in line when the big brothers in the big bhavans cause the law to be laid down.
Kolkata, as you might know, has been trying to turn over a new leaf in more ways than one.
Might Bangaloreans be thinking that there is a prize for turning your head back, after being in the front for so long in so many ways?