SEVENTEEN AMARNATH pilgrims, including two women, were killed and 29 injured when the state transport bus in which they were travelling skidded off the road and fell into a deep gorge at Banihal on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway Sunday afternoon. Police said they were investigating the cause of the accident. “Eyewitnesses gave us different versions. Some said a tyre of the bus burst and the driver lost control. Some said that the brakes didn’t work,” Deputy Superintendent of Traffic Vishal Manhas said.
“… we are not sure about the exact cause of accident.” The bus was moving up a slope when it skidded off the road and rolled into a stream near Nachilana, the police said. While most part of the stretch is barricaded, there was no barricade at the spot where the accident took place. “About 10-20 metres of the road is not barricaded,” DSP Manhas said. “And that is exactly where the bus rolled down.”
The bus was carrying 47 pilgrims, mostly from Bihar and Rajasthan, the police said. Sixteen of those killed were identified. Patna District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agrawal said five of the victims were from Danapur, a sub-division of Patna. The government has announced ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the family of each victim. Three victims each were from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, two from Assam and one each from Delhi, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
The accident took place close to the Army camp at Nachilana. Sources said the Army and police were immediately pressed into the rescue and relief operation. Local people also assisted them in the rescue work. The injured pilgrims were taken to Srinagar and Jammu for specialised treatment. The State Road Transport Corporation ordered a probe into the cause of accident and set up an inquiry committee. The committee has been asked to present its report within two days. CM Mehbooba Mufti, while expressing sorrow over the accident, hailed the “efforts of locals, Army, police and civil administration” in the rescue operation and ordered ex-gratia relief for the families of the victims.
–With inputs from ENS, Patna