Passengers of a PMPML bus had a lucky escape on Tuesday as the vehicle went up in flames seconds after they alighted from it. This is the 17th PMPML bus to catch fire in two years. Speaking to this paper after the blaze was doused, bus driver Shankar Hingmare said that it was his first trip from Vishrantwadi to the PMC headquarters.
“We started at 3.20 pm from Vishrantwadi and reached Sancheti bridge at 3.50 pm. I noticed smoke coming out of the bonnet and stopped the bus. I asked the passengers to get down though I didn’t tell them that something was wrong. So, the 40-odd passengers did not panic as they got down one by one,” he said.
Moments later, after all the passengers had alighted, the bus went up in flames. “In 5-7 minutes, the entire bus was charred,” said a traffic police constable on the scene. The fire brigade, which reached the spot in less than 10 minutes, put out the fire. The incident, which took place on the COEP bridge near Sancheti Hospital, affected traffic movement on the bridge.
Like in the past 16 cases, the charred bus was fuelled by CNG (Compressed Natural Gas). PMPML officials could not give a satisfactory reply as to what exactly was causing the repeated fires in CNG buses and whether corrective measures had been taken following a string of such fires. “Almost all the buses that have caught fire were fuelled by CNG. Some of them belonged to the PMPML while others were run by private contractors,” said PMPML spokesperson Subhash Gaikwad.
He said a preliminary investigation into Tuesday’s incident pointed to a short-circuit. “We will come to know the exact reason after the accident department submits its report to the administration on Wednesday,” said Gaikwad, adding that Tata company, the manufacturer, was also expected to investigate the fire and present its findings.
Gaikwad said that in the past cases, the fact-finding committee of PMPML and RTO officials had cited “technical problems” with CNG buses. “We had installed fire extinguishers in as many buses as possible,” he said.
The PMPML runs 1,400 buses daily, of which at least 800 run on CNG.
Though the incident happened around 4 pm on Tuesday, PMPML chairperson and managing director Nayana Gunde was apparently not alerted by her staff till 5.30 pm when The Indian Express spoke to her.
Later, she said, “The bus that caught fire was from the Kothrud depot. It was a CNG bus. It caught fire at Sancheti bridge. The driver noticed smoke near the engine and asked all passengers to get down. There were no injuries to any passenger.”
She said they have urged the Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT) to conduct a fire audit. A team from PMPML too will look into the causes.
Gunde said that they had appointed a private entity to investigate the past cases. “However, after a few months, the party backed out. Therefore, we have now asked the CIRT to conduct the fire audit,” she said.
Seeking to know the exact reason for the past cases and the latest one as well, civic activist Prashant Inamdar said, “It is shocking to learn that the PMPML continues to play with the lives of passengers. Despite repeated fire incidents, it has not been able to find out the reason nor been able to take concrete steps to prevent such fires.”
Pointing out that the PMPML does not have trained manpower nor carries out proper maintenance of the buses, Inamdar said, “Routine check-up must be done, which does not seem to happen. There should be a logbook of a checklist, which is also missing. Nobody seems to be verifying whether the buses are roadworthy.”
Another civic activist Shridhar Chalkha said testing kits were mandatory. “Whether such kits are available with the PMPML is not clear. Drivers have no training on how to use the kits. Besides, it has been noticed the PMPML often runs out of spare parts…,” he said.