PSBB drowning, Zion school bus disaster and accountability

The general approach to disaster in Tamil Nadu today is worrying. Without holding a brief for anyone in the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan student death case (read the report here) it is legitimate to ask whether the lower level staff were sufficiently empowered to ensure safety of children.

If indeed there were safety lapses and they had no way to resolve them because they lacked the authority, the answers for what happened would lie with the management. Of late, there have been numerous fatal accidents in Chennai, of which the incident involving Sruthi, a child studying in Zion Matriculation School who fell through a hole on the floor of the bus and died, is the most prominent. In that particular case, the RTO was clearly at fault, as it had issued a Fitness Certificate for the vehicle only recently.

Then there was the CMRL crane accident which killed one and injured many. Two people were immediately arrested for this, including the site manager of Larsen and Toubro.

The key question in such incidents is about negligence or refusal to heed warnings of safety risks. That has to be proved using transparent, credible investigation. Some of the worst and highly visible negligence is attributable to official agencies in charge of safety. Examples are RTOs, Lift Inspectorate, and Food Safety authorities, who are openly corrupt and yet have no real liability when things go wrong.

It is important to point out that criminalising everything will leave high-risk jobs such as swimming instructors open only to those with the strongest politician-police-underworld connections, and not serve the cause of children’s safety, because such individuals cannot be touched even they have been negligent or motivated. The better choice would be to professionalise the system, empower and train in disaster management, before demanding accountability.

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