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Karnataka makes GPS, panic buttons mandatory in state transport buses

In a move to ensure safer public transport systems for women, Karnataka is all set to become India's first state to install panic buttons in state transport buses.

Earlier, the Karnataka government had asked app-based cab aggregators such as Uber and Ola to install global positioning systems (GPS) and panic buttons in their affiliated cabs. The government of Karnataka is now moving a step forward to extending the same to all transport operators.

The app-based services, however, always had GPS, but panic button was a new rule for them. Once the transport department issues the guidelines all India tourist omnibus, contract carriages, stage carriages (private buses operated on designated routes) and maxi cabs will have to install GPS and panic button.

The new rule is expected to take effect in about four months. The government is working on this as part of its overall strategy to step up security for women, says principal secretary (transport) EV Ramana Reddy.

The government had been discussing options to step up security for women since the Nirbhaya rape incident in Delhi. The proposal copy states that around 13 lakh women work in and around the city of Bengaluru, and many of them travel within a radius of 60 km every day to garment units, malls, small scale industries, IT companies and government sector firms.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had, in his budget speech in March, said the vehicle tracking units (GPS, in other words) will be installed in the entire fleet of the transport utilities including KSRTC, NWKRTC and NEKRTC.

"We decided to extend the same to private transport vehicles. We have asked the State and Regional Transport Authorities to come up with guidelines for private operators," Reddy said. The government of India has set up a corpus called Nirbhaya Fund to encourage initiatives by states focussing on the safety of women.

"We will get the funds from the Centre. Otherwise too, we are committed to do this to increase the security for members of the public using public or private transport," says Reddy.

The transport department will soon invite bids to deploy the technology and set up the control centre in Bengaluru. The centre will monitor the movement of transport vehicles with the help of telecom services, said J Gnanendra Kumar, joint commissioner (e-governance), transport.

According to transport officials, Karnataka and Kerala will be the first states in India to bring all their private transport vehicles under the vehicle tracking system if the new rule takes off. Kerala too is moving towards a similar regulation.

Two years ago, the Delhi administration launched the mobile app TellTail, which allows the commuter to be tracked with the help of GPS in the vehicle or his or her mobile. The transport department will also provide access to the police.

"We will have a control centre and integrate it with the VTU. Passengers can use the panic button in the event of an emergency," Kumar said.

The transport department, according to him, plans to issue fitness certificate or issue renew permits only if the vehicles come fitted with the GPS system.

The transport officials are also looking at another advantage by making GPS compulsory in transport vehicles. They can check route violation by private stage operators (private buses running on routes) and over-speeding.