The death of an 18-year-old motorist at Santhome in the heart of Chennai on Sunday led to a sudden road roko agitation. The deceased Ajith Raaja had rammed into an MTC bus and was fatally wounded. For the public, which is already frustrated with the disrupted bus services in the city, this was a tipping point.
Since the bus strike by drivers belonging to the Tamil Nadu State Transportation Corporation began on Thursday, services have been scarce in the city and across the state, with the government forced to hire temporary drivers.
But the death of a motorist on Sunday has now raised questions on the dangers posed to commuters by using temporary drivers.
Despite initial reports that made the motorist seem responsible for the accident on Sunday, the police investigating the case confirmed to TNM that it was the bus driver who was primarily responsible for the death.
"The bus was being driven by a temporary driver and he clearly did not have the expertise to handle it," says one investigating officer. "He rammed the vehicle into the motorist killing him," he adds.
An FIR has been filed in the case and the driver was charged with Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder).
But this is not an isolated incident. On the same day, yet another life was lost to the inexperience of a temporary driver in Cuddalore.
According to reports, a 37-year-old man was crushed to death and two others grievously injured after the bus hit a bike in Virudhachalam on Sunday. The temporary driver was attempting to take the bus from a shed to a depot. This accident too triggered public uproar and CITU members led the protest.
â€śOver 80% of MTC buses have exceeded their lifetime and all technical workers are on strike," CITU state president of Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation A Soundararajan told the media. "Itâ€™s a big risk to run them without maintenance,â€ť he added.
Then what alternative does the government have?
Former bureaucrat MG Devasahayam who has led the transport department twice in his tenure as a public administrator suggests that the army be called in.
"Driving a heavy vehicle is not a joke. It requires a huge amount of experience and assigning temporary drivers just won't work," he explains. "Former servicemen or current men in the army can handle these vehicles because they have experience manoeuvring heavy vehicles. Today it is two people but if this inexperienced driving continues, the death toll could go further up," he warns.
But that is not the only challenge at hand. "There is no maintenance of these buses and the parts are sub-standard. When authorities knowingly use such inexperienced drivers, and put public life at risk, they too should be booked under section 304," says the former bureaucrat.