Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Experiments with school children is just not on

The Right to Information unearthed how the officialdom used its ingenuity to legalise the stuffing up of school children in autorickshaws in 1996. However, all this stuffing, travelling in smoke spewing rickshaws, does it affect the kids at all, or are we just throwing up red herrings? In an unrelated, but incidental development, a year after officials in transport department conducted their experiment to fit 10 kids in an auto, experts from National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) started one of their own.

In 1997, NIOH began a project with the objective of investigating the effects of lead on the adolescence and puberty of school children exposed to auto exhaust pollution in Ahmedabad. Till about 2003, 1,206 school kids were made 'subjects' of the study. These 903 boys and 303 girls of 10 to 13+ years were selected as it was believed that maximum changes associated with puberty occur between 10 to 16 years of age.

NIOH aimed at studying whether the presence of lead in the blood of the kids is causing acceleration or is delaying the onset of puberty, and also it effects on their IQ (intelligence quotient).

Six years of study and Rs 38 lakh plus seem to have gone down the drain as NIOH is still inconclusive about the effect of lead on the sex maturity rate of adolescent children whom it "studied" for so long. One thing it has concluded though is that a high level of lead could have an adverse effect on the IQ of growing children.

The March 2006 circular of transport commissioner has allowed a maximum of six kids in an auto. Is it being implemented? More importantly, whose responsibility is it to ensure that kids ride safely to school and back home? It is that of the transport department, traffic police or education department. Who has benefited, at whose cost, due to this grey area? In the entire process, did anybody spare a thought for the kids? In 2005, a proposal was handed over to Anil Mukim, the then commissioner of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to ply CNG buses for school kids. A pilot project prepared by district education officer after consultations with 30-odd schools, was also submitted.

Unfortunately, unlike the other 'fantastic' projects taken up by him, this one remained "under consideration". Why has it not been considered as yet? The question put up under RTI still remains unanswered by AMC.

- Rahul Mangaonkar
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