Pune’s public transport PMPML’s buses are snatching people’s right to life

PMPML buses are killing people in Pune while police, politicians, and activists watch as mute spectators.

Formed after the merger of PMT (Pune Municipal Transport) and PCMT (Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Transport) in October 2007, the PMPML (Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited) often makes it in the headlines due to wrong reasons.

Pune is referred as Maharashtra’s cultural capital and “IT City” as it is home to offices of world’s top IT companies.  Still, most of the public transport buses in this city do not follow their timetable, and some of the drivers as well as conductors are incredibly arrogant.

From note scam to misusing JNNURM funds, there are several allegations of corruption that the public transport body is facing. Perhaps, this is the reason; the state government has recently appointed IAS Officer Tukaram Munde as PMPML’s CMD.  He has dismissed, suspended non-performing workers and has managed to improve the financial performance of the body. But that’s not the primary issue.

The primary cause of concern is the number of deaths and accidents that the PMPML buses cause each year. In most cases, the police suggest “mechanical failure” as the reason behind the accident and drivers are allowed to walk free. Surprisingly, in some cases, Pune police officials have even asked the accident victims to not to file FIR against PMPML bus drivers involved in reckless driving.  To put it in simple words, these drivers have a free pass, license to kill!

A PMPML bus hit seven vehicles on November 6, 2017, in Pune’s upper Indira Nagar. One person died on the spot, and several people were injured. Later, as in every case involving PMPML, the driver of the bus, as well as police, declared non-functional brakes as the reason behind the accident. However, after checking the bus, PMPML CMD- Tukaram Munde said the crash happened due to driver’s negligence as the bus’s brakes were in perfect condition. The public transport body has also suspended the driver for the same.

City police did something similar in the accident case reported on October 28, 2017. The bus driver was driving fast and had to apply brakes quickly to avoid collision with a car.  Instead of registering a case against the PMPML driver for reckless driving, cops advised the victims to settle the matter outside. Due to this, the injured bus passengers were unable to claim their medical insurance as there was no FIR filed after the incident.  Several such cases show how police help PMPML drivers to settle the matter quickly. Once in a blue moon, the Pune City traffic police issues notice to PMPML and urge them to train their drivers for avoiding mishaps.

Facts and figures:

PMPML bus crushed a bike at Shivaji Nagar

Data about the number of accidents and deaths caused by PMPML buses is horrific. As per information obtained using RTI by this journalist, last year, PMPML buses killed 15 people and were involved in overall 78 accidents. As per Pune Mirror’s report, this year, the number of deaths caused due to PMPML buses has already crossed 17.

Instead of taking serious cognizance and initiating action against guilty drivers, the Pune traffic police department issues just advisory letters. Then, perhaps, as a formality, PMPML issues press statements about training sessions held for drivers. This is going on for several years now, and city’s so-called NGOs, as well as activists, have done nothing else besides submitting complaint letters along with a bouquet of flowers to the city’s police chief.

It obvious, if politicians, PMPML, and police have failed to tackle the issue, one needs to present this matter in front of the court as a PIL. This is an expensive affair, and only someone with strong financial backing can do the same.

Now the question is that why are city’s activists and NGOs silent on this substantive issue?  They gather people in the name of public awareness programs or PMPML Pravasi Manch meetings and show their strength, support to politicians. But, not even one activist has approached the court against PMPML and ignorant police in spite of so many deaths every year.

Newspapers like Hindustan Times (Pune Edition) and Pune Mirror are playing their part by promptly reporting these cases and questioning the police, PMPML. But, are these lives not crucial as that of Rohith Vemula, Mohammad Akhlaq, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and Junaid Khan’s life for human rights activists? Why have all the MLAs, MPs, and local corporators maintained stone silence on the issue?

Isn’t there a complaints department?

PMPML allows its passengers to either email their complaints, SMS them, send them via PMPML app or call the complaints number to register the same. However, the shocking part noticed recently is that instead of solving complains, the data (along with passenger’s name and phone numbers) was directly passed on to the drivers. They called up passengers, abused them, and threatened them not to file any complaints against PMPML!

The point worth noticing here is that police did not take suo moto action even when the information about drivers threatening passengers was in public domain. And, even PMPML quietly temporarily suspended some drivers and issued show cause notice to officials who forwarded complainants numbers to drivers directly.  Surprisingly, even Pune’s so-called activists did not decide to approach the court or force the police to file criminal charges against drivers who had issued threats.

Mumbai-based Advocate Anand Pande and anti-corruption crusader Sunil Toke shared their expertise on this issue. 

While sharing his opinion about officials disclosing phone numbers of complainants with guilty drivers, the Mumbai based lawyer pointed out that, PMPML officials are acting against the Right to Privacy which is an intrinsic part of Life and Liberty as enshrined in Article 21 of Indian Constitution. This right was validated recently by Nine Judge Constitutional bench, headed by Justice Kehar of Supreme Court as well.

“It’s obvious that if PMPML’s own officials manage complaints, they won’t act against their errant colleague drivers. Such complaints handling mechanism won’t be balanced and effective. Thus, the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited should consider setting up an independent body comprising a retired IAS officer, retired judge or a senior lawyer with experience of more than ten years of practice who would independently deal with such public complaints. This tribunal needs to be vested with powers of the civil court to examine witnesses on oath, record evidence, summon the driver and pass an order. The tribunal’s contact details should be visible on each bus. To appoint such tribunal, if required, they would have to make an amendment in section 40 of the BPMC Act 1949. Under this section, the Transport Manager is appointed to manage the affairs of Transport Corporation.  It’s unfortunate that NGOs in the city have become mute spectators. They receive funds from various sources and can afford to file litigation on needless issues to appease their donors. Perhaps, some of them consider filing petitions on this issue as a futile exercise,” said Advocate Anand Pande.

“After the accident, police should complete the FIR procedure in the most balanced and factful way possible. Investigating officers should understand the pain that the family of the deceased person faces after losing their family member. Thus, they should add all the relevant Motor Vehicle Act, IPC sections against culprit drivers, collect necessary evidence, record statements of the witnesses and help the public prosecutor to present a foolproof case in the court. Cops should make sure that the guilty driver does not get bail quickly. This will help in improving self-confidence and boosting the morale of the police. People will start respecting cops if they investigate all cases correctly, and most importantly, stop misusing IPC section 353,” said Mumbai-based cop, often referred as the anti-corruption crusader, Sunil Toke.

“Some cases show how certain police officials form a nexus with medical officers of local government hospitals. Post-mortem or other related medical reports are adjusted to help criminals. Men in uniform should never try to dilute any case by applying lighter sections to help the culprit get bail. Law is equal for everyone and investigator should never differentiate between people on the basis of their financial condition or status in society. It’s sad that Pune cops are diluting cases and helping PMPML drivers,” said Toke.