Romantic euphoria and dire distress coalesced in West Bengal on Friday. Thirty-six years after Kolkata’s Metro service was flagged off (October 1984), the truncated inaugural run ~ from Sector V to Salt Lake stadium ~ of the East-West Metro was greeted as another proud boast for a city that makes do with a decrepit system of urban transportation and shrinking roadspace. The achievement would seem to be still more remarkable as the track has been opened to public, albeit partially, barely a few months after the cave-in at Bowbazar and the displacement of families from hearth and home.

In parallel and at another remove, the underbelly of transportation was frightfully exposed when a pool car carrying school children met with an accident at Polba in Hooghly district. With the help of the police, the children were driven quicker to hospitals with grievous injuries than to the classroom. The accident has evoked a sense of shock and disbelief not the least because the state’s transport department has confirmed that the vehicle did not have a fitness certificate.

Equally does the lapse point to a near total lack of supervision. The document had lapsed two years ago, with no questions asked as to why it had not been renewed. In other words, the vehicle was running illegally for the past two years; the risk of an accident involving children was dangerously real. And so it happened on Friday… in parallel to the distribution of roses to inaugural passengers at the East-West Metro’s ticket counters. Neither the school authorities nor the bus operators nor for that matter the transport department can evade responsibility.

The vehicle reportedly ran out of control and fell into a ditch off Delhi Road. Will some fundamental questions get to be asked and answered? It is hard not to wonder whether the driver was inexperienced, in the manner of the vehicle that was unfit for travel. As often happens in the sphere of education, now a fundamental right, the children are the worst sufferers of the callous negligence of adults. Misgivings that the pool cars, to reach and return from school , are part of a business enterprise that is run with the patronage of the respectve schools, are not wholly unfounded. The seemingly convenient network calls for reflection both in Kolkata and across the districts and greater coordination between the stakeholders ~ the schools, the police, the transport department, and the pool car operators, not to forget the guardians.

It is cause for alarm that vehicles, that had reached their sell-by date 15 years after manufacture, were repaired, painted and redeployed as pool cars for schools. A not dissimilar practice has been noticed in the case of private buses, the bedrock of Kolkata’s transportation. The illegality has been institutionalised. The distribution of invitation cards for the East-West Metro inaugural must seem to be trivial in comparison.