On November 8 last year, Shikha was to appear for her mid-semester test that is part of evaluation of the final result. This was why she boarded a bus from Rampura Phull to Rajindra College, Bathinda, despite the fact that there was thick smog all over. This was the fallout of stubble burning in fields and schools and colleges in Punjab were closed for a week but stubble burning continued unabated.
She, along with some friends, was standing in a corner of a flyover in Kachi Bhucho after the PRTC bus broke down when a truck ran over her and many other students, killing nine of them on the spot and injuring 14. All the deceased were from Rampura Phull area of Bathinda.
A year later, the victims’ families have raised questions about government action and public’s safety. Tanya, a cousin of Shikha, was among those injured last year. A resident of Chau wali Gali, Tanya is a student of B.Com final year and is busy preparing for her exams in December. Though she can walk slowly now, deep injury scars are still on her feet. Anju Bansal, Shikha’s mother, broke down as she recalled the tragedy. “Why can’t farmers stop burning fields? Why can’t government stop this environmental pollution?,” she asked.
Tanya said, “After hearing of a vehicle pile-up due to smoke in Bathinda, I got worried and did not go to college, I had seen bodies of my friends in pieces, I just can’t take a risk. As farmers are not going to stop [burning stubble], if colleges can pre-pone their compulsory tests, it can be a relief for us. Because had there been no test, we would have taken off that day as well.”
Priyanka, yet another student of Rajindra Medical College, took one year to start going to college, but still she is dependent on her parents and relatives for drop and pick-up as she can barely walk. “Her hip joint was broken, apart from many other injuries. We spent over Rs 20 lakh on her treatment and still more surgeries are left. The state government just gave us a compensation of Rs 50,000,” said Swatantar Pal, her uncle. The families of the deceased were given Rs 1 lakh each while Rs 50,000 each to injured.
Priyanka was B.Sc (non-medical) student at Rajindra College when accident happened and now a month back she has started going to a college in Rampura Phull, near her residence. “Someone drops herhome and picks her up. She is a bright student, scores 80 per cent and above. So we want her to study as much as she wants. However, she is yet to recover from the shock and starts crying even if she sees a cycle coming towards her,” said Pal. He told that he had met Power Minister and area MLA Gurpreet Kangar and asked that policy for injured needs to be changed, but there was no action.
Pal said, “Now, we will approach a court to claim compensation. We will move court against the Punjab Government as they have made stubble burning a political issue. They cannot stop them [farmers] because of vote bank politics and have no concern for lives lost or even the health hazards. Once again, the situation is the same.”
Vinod Kumar, 18, was a student of DAV College. His father, Manish Kumar, wishes to forget the ill-fated day. Vinod’s body was in pieces, said Ranjit Singh,a home guard at Rampura Phull police station. He said, “My own daughter, Jaspreet, was also a victim along with her best friend Nancy. Farmers are once again making the skies hazy. We fear a lot now. I don’t send my younger daughter to college on any the day I find similar conditions.”