Lessons need to be urgently learnt from the fatal bus crash that killed three children and a teacher from Indian School Nizwa (ISN) to prevent another similar tragedy happening again. That’s the message from parents with children at ISN and other Indian Schools in Muscat.
In an investigation last week, Y reported on the January 28 accident, in which a school bus filled with 34 Class II students returning from a field trip to Bahla was hit by a truck carrying frozen fish. The force of the impact flipped over the bus, which rolled several times.
Three children, Siya Sabu, Mohammed Shammas and Ruya, died from their injuries, along with teacher Deepali Sandip Seth. Both the bus and truck drivers were also killed.
A fourth pupil, Jaden Jaison, remains in hospital in Nizwa with serious head injuries and hopes are fading for his recovery.
Our story prompted a strong response from parents, who paid RO2 for their child to attend the picnic trip, demanding action from the ISN and the authorities.
As the Indian Schools’ Board begins an investigation into the tragedy, questions remain unanswered. One is about whether the private bus – one of four used for the school trip that day – had seatbelts and if so, why the children were not using the restraints.
Y spoke to a worker from the bus company based in Izki, who told us that the bus was fitted with seat belts. Parents of children on the bus told us that the children were not wearing belts at the time of the crash.
There have been claims of overcrowding on the bus and concerns raised about the age of the Omani driver, after it emerged that he was in his late 60s and possibly older.
ISN could not comment on this and other issues while an investigation into the accident is under way.
“We want an independent inquiry into what happened and the role the school played,” says Akhilesh Kumar, a parent whose son was on one of the other buses on the trip and who has served on the school’s management committee in the past.
“Responsibility and accountability are two faces of the same coin. Some fundamental questions relating to the Indian School Nizwa bus accident are not yet answered.”
Mr Kumar, who works as a senior pharmacist at Nizwa Hospital where the injured children were taken, highlights areas such as a lack of proper protocols for school trips as a concern.
Justin James, an ISN parent, praised the community’s response to the accident – the first in the school’s 25-year history – which saw people from different nationalities rush to the hospital offering to donate blood for the injured children.
But he added: “We seldom learn any lasting lessons from such tragedies. Had we had the capacity to learn and act, such tragedies won’t be happening again and again. Usually after a few days tragedies fade from public memories, but they remain as permanent scars on the families who lost their loved ones and thereby have lost their rightful happiness they deserve as humans in the world.
“Finally, who pays the price for the neglect and carelessness of some who is responsible [sic] for such accidents? Only the families affected by them.
“Therefore, before the tragedy fades from our memories/time heals our wounds let me raise a few questions: Will those responsible for this tragedy come forward to accept their role in the accident and show to the society that they really care or if they fail to do so, will those in positions take action on the people responsible for the tragedy?
“As fellow humans of the departed souls are we not responsible to render justice to their untimely, tragic death?”
Another parent, Sireen, commenting on Y’s website, said: “We understand that accidents happen but not often. For the past one year these accidents are happening, what have you guys done to ensure the safety of our children? We are paying you fees to take care of our children not to say we are waiting for [an] investigation. I strongly advise Mr Chairman to take action and not just say. Allow us peace of mind that our children are going to school and not on a battlefield.”
In response to questions from Y Magazine last week, Wilson V George, the chairman of the Indian Schools’ Board of Directors, insisted ISN had safety procedures for trips, which were followed on the day of the accident.
Others believe that not enough action has been taken after a fatal bus crash two years ago that killed three students from Pakistan School Muscat in Darsait.
Planned measures, such as cameras and IVMS (In Vehicle Monitoring System), for all Indian Schools Oman, have only been introduced in two schools so far.
In response to a question from Y about the delay, Mr George responded: “Indians schools Board has come up with a programme called ‘Safe school transport system’ in June 2014. The safe school transport system has basic safety features such as seat belts, trained drivers, IVMS [and] attendants.
“The project has already kicked off in two of the city schools, Indian School Darsait and Indian School Mabela. More than 1,200 students are currently using it and this system is [in] line with the requirements of [the]Ministry of Education for transportation of students.
“The Board has plans to extend the same in phases to other schools. Indian School Seeb is expected to start the safe transport system before March 2016 and a task force is working at Indian School Muscat to implement the system by April 2016. Since it is a new initiative and a big responsibility for schools, it is planned to be implemented in phases.”
He did not comment on the reasons for the delay in implementing the system.
This week, there have been reports that one measure being looked at is handing over the running of all school buses to a public transport company, according to the Royal Oman Police.
This is one step that could be debated at a planned meeting between parents of the Indian School Nizwa and school officials later this week, which a representative from the Indian Embassy is also expected to attend.
“There are angry parents who will be asking lots of questions,” says Akhilesh Kumar. “And we want answers.”