A recent Facebook post on seat reservation for women in KSRTC buses was quick to escalate into a heated online debate. The post argued that if a man took up a reserved seat that lay vacant he should not be asked to vacate the same if women passenger boards the bus later. The viral post soon found its way into Whatsapp causing the debate to rage on full steam. Men who have had to give up seats in the past gave vengeful shout outs to the cause and many sympathetic women joined the bandwagon. But the Motor Vehicle Department and Kerala Police decided not to reserve their comments any longer.
Putting an end to speculations on the rights of passengers over reserved seats in KSRTC buses, the MVD and the Police Department stated that even if a man has taken up ladies' seats at the start of the journey when there were no women claimants, he is required to vacate the seat if a woman boards the bus later. The law asks all buses, including KSRTC buses, to reserve 25 per cent of the seats to women. This applies to KSRTC buses conducting short distance and fast passenger services. KSRTC specifically instructs the conductors to make sure that reserved seats are made available to women passengers when they board the bus.
Fine for not vacating reserved seats
There is no harm in a male passenger occupying a seat reserved for women if there are no women passengers who require a seat at the start of the journey. But if he refuses to vacate the seat for a woman passenger, he can be slammed with a fine. The MVD clarifies that this applies to occupying all seats reserved for specific categories. Motor Vehicle Department Act 177 states that a fine of Rs 100 can be levied from those who violate the seat reservation rule. If the violator makes the mistake of launching into altercation with the conductor about his right to keep sitting in the reserved seat, MVD can initiate legal proceedings against the passenger. If the charge of obstructing a public servant from performing his/her duty is pressed, the passenger will then be dealing with a police case.
The tactic of feigning sleep
A seat-defending-technique widely used in KSRTC buses is to feign sleep as soon as one sits down. Regular passengers say that the tactic is used by everyone irrespective of gender. Women passengers are accused for feigning sleep in the event of mothers carrying young children or pregnant women boarding the bus. A good number of women credit men for courteously giving up their seats for mothers with young children and pregnant women while fellow women passengers turn a blind eye. Though the sleeping passengers need not always be feigning, KSRTC, MVD and the Police confer the conductor with the authority to wake them up if they happen to be occupying reserved seats for which there are other claimants.
Look before you sit
Reserved seats can get women in trouble too, for KSRTC buses have seats set apart for senior citizens, persons with disability, pregnant women and women travelling with babies. Five percent of the total number of seats in KSRTC buses - which will come to two seats in a bus - are reserved for disabled persons, while one seat is set apart for visually challenged persons. Senior citizens have 20 seats in each bus, which has to be divided between men and women. However, the reservation for senior citizens comes down to five percent in limited stop, limited stop ordinary and other special services. The reservation is not applicable in cases where there is a provision for online reservation.
KSRTC has reserved 25 percent of seats for women in its short distance and fast passenger services. In its air-conditioned buses conducting inter-state services, at least three rows of seat behind the driver’s cabin are reserved for women. The same rule applies to Super Fast, Super Deluxe and Express services. This does not mean that women are allowed to sit only in the reserved seats, as it is sometimes interpreted. What it means is that the reserved seats should be made available exclusively to women.
Out of the total seats reserved for women, one seat is set apart for pregnant women and five percent of seats are for mothers travelling with infants. Private bus services are also required to reserve a seat for pregnant women. As per an order issued by the Human Rights Commission, the MVD Act concerning seat reservations was amended making it mandatory in all bus services to reserve seat for pregnant women. But these seats need not be left vacant if there are no claimants during a journey.
Pester a woman, lose your seat
In buses conducting long distance services, the seats reserved for women are often occupied by men. If there are no women passengers who require a seat, this arrangement can be allowed by the conductor. However, if a man occupying a reserved seat adjacent to a woman passenger misbehaves, the woman can complain to the conductor. The conductor is required to ask the male passenger to vacate the seat immediately. The MVD can also initiate legal proceedings against male passengers misbehaving with women.