NEW DELHI: For the third time this week, a DTC low-floor bus caught fire. No one was hurt, but questions are being asked about the safety of the new CNG fleet, delivery of which had been delayed because Tata Motors wanted to make changes to the buses to make them “more fire-retardant” . That was after a DTC bus caught fire in March.

“The presence of mind of the driver helped in averting a major tragedy,” a senior police official said.

‘‘ The bus was travelling on Najafgarh Road when there was a huge sound. Immediately , all systems inside the bus stopped working. The bus door did not open. The driver then climbed out of his cabin and opened the door from the outside . The fire had begun in one of the rear wheels but by the time the fire engines got to the bus — about 15 to 20 minutes — it was completely gutted,’’ said a senior police officer.

Police said they were mulling the option of lodging a case against DTC.

Delhi government called an emergency meeting of bus and tyre manufacturers and imposed a penalty on Tata Motors , who have been issued an ultimatum to better their services and have been asked to replace the bus. In addition, a slew of measures has been initiated to fix the problem.

‘‘ The fire is not related to the CNG kit. It was caused by a technical snag in the brake shoe,’’ said Naresh Kumar, DTC CMD. ‘‘ Prima facie, it seems the fire was not due to a CNG engine leak. Instead, a short-circuit triggered the blast,’’ the police said.

With DTC buses catching fire more and more frequently , some very serious passenger safety concerns have come up. The new fleet is being maintained by the manufacturer and DTC is paying close to Rs 50 lakh as AMC (annual maintenance contract) charges for each bus for a 12-year period. That works out to being close to the cost of a bus.

On November 30, a DTC bus caught fire near Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. None of the passengers was hurt, the police said. The route 832 bus was plying between Janakpuri and Inderlok. On November 26, a DTC bus carrying 40 children caught fire in Mayur Vihar. No one was injured.

Transport minister Arvinder Singh Lovely said the problem lies in the maintenance of the buses and not in their design . ‘‘ In view of the fires, Tata Motors has been issued an ultimatum and been asked to improve their services or be ready to face strict action. The DTC Depot Shift Manager of Mayapuri depot and Manager (Workshop) Tata have both been suspended for negligence ,’’ said Lovely.

A four-member committee has been set up to look into the incident and to oversee maintenance of the buses, which is outsourced to the manufacturer . The committee is headed by Joint Commissioner of Transport department Ajay Chagti, and has Retd Director of ARAI M Bhanot, Chief General Manager (Technical) of DTC VK Bhatia, and Motor Licensing Officer Anil Chikara as members . The committee will submit its report within a month.

Based on preliminary investigations , transport commissioner RK Verma said the problem was not with the fleet. ‘‘ The buses are fine but there are some maintenance issues. An independent automobile engineer will be deputed in every bus depot to oversee the maintenance of buses as a third party,’’ said Verma.

Meanwhile, a Tata Motors spokesperson said the company is carrying out its own investigation into the incident. ‘‘ So far, we have concluded there is nothing wrong with the engine or the CNG kit. We have already delivered the first lot of 650 buses and about 400 buses of the second lot of 1625 buses. All the buses are running normally, but if something needs to be done, it will be done. We will ensure there are no glitches.’’

Not Worth Their Hefty Price Tag?

Thursday’s fire in another low-floor bus raises questions about the safety of the new DTC fleet
Low-floor buses ordered 3,125
From Tata Motors 2,031
From Ashok Leyland 1,094
Buses delivered by Tata Motors 1,050
Amount paid per bus for Annual Maintenance Contract (for 12 years) Rs 50 lakh for every non-AC bus
Rs 60 lakh for every AC bus
Supposed to be carried out before a Tata low-floor bus leaves the depot If all lights are working properly If all wipers are working properly The driver takes four rounds of the DTC depot before the bus is allowed out to see if brakes are functioning, acceleration pedal is responding and noise of the engine is normal Tyre pressure Performance of air filter Tension of engine belt Electric and pneumatic controls with driver In addition, all buses undergo checks as scheduled in service book on a monthly or km basis.

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