By Vijay V Singh & Shreya Bhandary, TNN | Jan 19, 2013,

MUMBAI: A 35-year-old school bus conductor has been arrested by police for allegedly sexually assaulting a four-year-old nursery student of a premier Juhu school on a moving school bus.

Vile Parle resident Ramesh Rajput committed the crime on the young girl on Tuesday afternoon when the bus was dropping children home. The victim was the last child left on the 16-seater vehicle. Police officers said that, in breach of a state government policy, no woman attendant was present on the bus at the time of the offence. The school, however, insisted that a female attendant was at hand and it was she who “confronted” conductor Rajput and “stopped” him.

Police arrested Rajput on Thursday and booked him for rape and molestation under the Indian Penal Code and invoked several sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. He was produced before the Andheri magistrate court on Friday and remanded in police custody till February 1. Meanwhile, the bus driver was made a witness in the case based on his version that he was unaware of what was going on in the back.

“We have effected immediate arrest of the person concerned, registered a strong case for a non-bailable offence and will ensure that the culprit is punished severely. We will also terminate the contract with the bus owner,” said a trustee of the girl’s school.

The crime occurred around 1pm on Tuesday after the bus left the school with more than a dozen nursery students, including several girls. One by one, the other kids were dropped off. A resident of the western suburbs, the victim was sitting in the front row waiting for her turn, when Rajput threatened her to go with him to the backseat, officers said. He then sexually assaulted her. According to a statement released by the school, the girl was “first pushed and then touched inappropriately”. As her residence neared, Rajput warned the child of dire consequences if she spoke about the incident to anyone.

Police officers said the child, in shock, did not reveal the crime to her parents on Tuesday. She did, however, make it known on Wednesday. According to the school, the child spoke to her father, who reported the offence in writing to the principal at 4pm on Wednesday.

“The principal initiated an immediate medical check-up of the child,” said the school statement, and on Thursday the school “handed over the bus driver, lady attendant and the accused”. The statement declared that the lady attendant was present in the bus “at all times as per the guidelines of the school” and she “immediately confronted” the conductor during the act of the crime and “stopped” him. “The lady attendant was a supportive witness”, the statement claimed.

On this however, the police differed from the school. Officers said there was no female attendant on the bus at the time of the crime.

The bus was engaged by the school, it admitted, on a yearly contract and guidelines given to “the transport vendors with respect to lady attendants, cleaning norms, etc. This has to be followed religiously”. Despite several attempts, the contractor was unavailable for comment.

As per the rules prescribed in the state government’s School Bus Safety policy, a school bus ferrying female students has to compulsorily employ a lady attendant. She has to remain present in the bus from the start of the journey till the last student is dropped off. The policy also demands that the school and the bus contractor sign an agreement requiring background checks on bus personnel by the contractor. At the same time, the school is made responsible for ensuring proper training for bus drivers, cleaners, conductors and attendants.

The police on Friday said they are inquiring into the lapses that possibly led to the Tuesday offence. They are also probing if Rajput committed a crime on any other child in the past. He has been slapped with Indian Penal Code sections 376 (rape), 354 (criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman). “We also applied sections 3 (penetrative sexual assault), 7 (sexual assault) and 12 (sexual harassment of the child) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, in the case,” said additional police commissioner (west region) Vishwas Nangre-Patil.

Officers said the rape section was added taking into account a Supreme Court judgment that says that penetration is not necessary to establish the offence of rape. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, was invoked for it victim-friendliness. It bars direct confrontation between the victim and the perpetrator during investigation and trial, gives children the comfort of having a friend or family member with them while deposing, and directs police personnel to go to the victim’s home to take his or her statement and to do so in plainclothes.