Private school managements in Haryana have won a major battle against political parties, including the ruling BJP. The state government, after prodding from the Punjab and Haryana high court, has ordered that BJP and other parties can no longer commandeer the buses of private schools for carrying cadres and supporters to political rallies inside and outside the state.
The court had said the buses should be used only for transporting students, teachers and school staff, and the transport authorities had no right to demand use for political purposes. Thousands of buses were requisitioned for political rallies held at state capital Chandigarh, all district headquarters and even in national capital Delhi, which is outside the state. The schools sometimes had to struggle to recover the hire charges from political functionaries.
The federation of school managements had alleged that the Congress, BJP and Indian National Lok Dal governments had misused the powers given to the transport commissioner and deputy commissioners of district for directing schools to lend their buses for ferrying people for political purposes. The forcible takeover meant the schools had no option but to cancel their own schedules for using the buses on the requisitioned day.
Since Haryana is proximate to Delhi in three directions, both the Congress and BJP depend on their Haryana units for ensuring big crowds for rallies addressed by leaders such as Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi, Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi.
Interestingly, school buses do not have route permits to be taken out of Haryana, but both Haryana and Delhi police normally do not book buses used for political ferrying.
The order applies to buses owned by schools, while private buses, which offer transport facilities to schools on contract, can still continue to be used for political purposes.
Diversion of school buses for non-educational activities is normal in north Indian states. Many schools in Uttar Pradesh hire out their buses on holidays for private excursions and for ferrying marriage parties.
When chief minister Arvind Kejriwal introduced odd-even scheme to control traffic and bring down pollution in Delhi, he declared holiday for schools in the national capital. He ordered the schools to make their buses available to Delhi transport corporation for being run as route buses. However, school bus drivers, who had no training to operate routes in the big city, often lost their way, leading to passenger protests. Then the Aam Aadmi Party government declared that for the second round of odd even scheme, which also ran for a short period, school buses will not be requisitioned.
The transport regulations issued by the central government has said that school buses should be painted a uniform yellow color and carry the board "school bus", prominently in the front and back. They also have to carry a message that children are inside the bus to caution other motorists. Strict speed codes are defined for the drivers. In several countries, school buses get priority treatment because they are transporting children.
Political parties will now have to depend on private transporters for their crowd ferrying.