and faster to disaster
By Pushpakumara Jayaratna in Kurunegala
Wednesday's rail-road tragedy at Alawwa that claimed
more than 30 lives and injured about 60, has brought out a shocking
revelation that drivers often mix petrol into their diesel tanks
to get an extra pickup and an edge over other drivers.
petrol shed owners claim that private bus operators, especially
those who ply long distance routes, often pumped a few litres of
petrol along with the quota of diesel. It is alleged that this practice
was introduced by a company that operated buses from the North Central
Province plying via the North Western Province.
some regular passengers of the ill-fated bus charged that the previous
day the bus had stalled at Kadawatha due to some technical defects
and had to be push-started to resume the journey, the husband of
the owner of the bus claimed the bus was in tip-top shape but admitted
that the driver was not registered with the National Transport Commission.
The vehicle is registered under the name of his wife Deepani Silva.
another development, it is reported that the buses of a particular
company, that had the patronage of a North Central Provincial Council
member, were popular among travellers as they used to take Colombo
bound passengers from Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa through Kurunegala.
They had also earned the reputation of getting to their destinations
earlier than inter-city buses. It is also alleged that this company
had wielded this influence to ply many buses on different routes.
This had resulted in an unhealthy competition with other bus operators
on the same route, with little or no control over the quality or
safety of the services.
private bus passengers on this route also claimed that if they canvassed
for more passengers they were rewarded with a free ride to Colombo.
to eye witnesses of Wednesday's tragedy, the ill-fated bus had been
travelling at a high speed, probably a result of the intense competition
that had been building up for years.
is also alleged that the driver had a temporary licence issued by
the Gokarella police. The licence that had been issued for 14 days
had expired at the time of the accident. The temporary licence had
been issued following an earlier traffic offence committed by the
same driver. It is alleged that police had failed to apprehend the
driver, before the fatal accident- even though he had driven past
the police station several times after the licence had expired.
passengers charged that the same driver had committed a similar
offence at the Muttetuwegama railway crossing on the same route.
They say although private buses and motor cyclists who had attempted
to cross here, were heavily fined by police earlier, the police
had become slack in recent times. They said the big space in between
the crossings at Mutthetugala and Yangalmodera-where Wednesday's
accident occur- tempted some reckless and daredevil drivers to do
a zig-zag crossing while the rail gates were shut.
accidents had been reported from both these spots, with a constable
on a motor bicycle being the most recent victim, three months back.
Meanwhile, Wayamba DIG Asoka Ratnaweera said it was sheer recklessness
on the part of the driver and conductor that caused the horrific
accident on Wednesday and they were being given police protection
at the Kurunegala hospital, as the people in the area were after
the bus owner from Badulla said this was the only bus he owned and
it had not been involved in any accident in the past year, since
he bought it. "It was popular among passengers. My father too
was a businessman and a driver. My usual driver Asad takes leave
after a ten day stint and I too drive sometimes", he said.
said that his name and the conductor Buddhika's names were registered
in the transport commission as drivers and not Azad's name as they
had to make frequent switches. He said he was not yet aware of the
cause of the accident and knew only what was in the media.
it was the fate of the passengers to be involved in this accident.
I am shocked by it," he said.
Police Chief Chandra Fernando has sent a special British
team of forensic experts, who had come down to assist in the aftermath
of the tsunami, to the scene of the Alawwa tragedy. This team in
addition to helping the police with investigations, has also donated
some special body bags, that they had brought with them during the
to make roads safe
An organisation that claims to have offered its services
free of charge both to the Transport Ministry and the National Transport
Commission to improve transport services, has not received any favourable
response from either party, an official said.
Executive member of the Centre for Management, in Colombo, Rohan
Wickramasinghe said according to their findings transport services
in the country had fallen by the wayside because of the salary structure,
uncontrolled issue of route permits and unqualified drivers and
said that for the bus driver or condutor to earn Rs. 300 a day the
bus would need to generate an income of at least Rs, 3000 per day
and that explained why there was fierce and sometimes reckless competition,
posing a grave danger to commuters and pedestrians.
tragedy on Wednesday was probably caused by an attempt to earn more
by overtaking other buses. They are doing this just to get their
daily wages raised," he said. He said the centre believes that
the bus crew should be paid a fixed salary to avoid future accidents
of this nature.
also said the issuing of route permits, which is both uncontrolled
and politicised, is another obstacle. "What we propose is to
consider the area when issuing route permits. If it's a populated
area, it's quite alright to issue a number of route permits. But
for a sparsely populated area this would only do more harm than
be of any service.
also said the Centre has drafted a Diploma syllabus for conductors,
who are now operating with little or no qualifications. "We
have informed the relevant authorities that we could conduct this
diploma free of charge and we are awaiting their response,"
contents of the Diploma course includes a code of ethics, dress,
soft skill scheme and cash management for conductors. This course
includes communication skills and commuter relations.