AS MANY as 45 persons, including 10 women and nine children, died after a private bus from Uttarakhand, bound for Tuini in the remote area of Chopal, nearly 160 km from Shimla, plunged into Tons River — a tributary of the Yamuna — around 10.30 am Wednesday.
A pall of gloom descended on villages on both sides of the inter-state border along Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand as relatives of the victims rushed to the spot. There were only two survivors: the bus conductor and a teenage girl. He and the girl passenger managed to jump off the vehicle. The conductor told the police that there were 47 passengers on the bus. Most of them hailed from Uttarakhand, apart from Chopal and Jubbal areas of Himachal Pradesh.
Shimla Deputy Commissioner Rohan Chand Thakur, who along with Shimla SP D W Negi, was at the spot to supervise the relief and rescue operation, said such a heavy toll was caused by the “steep 90-degree straight fall of the vehicle.” The bus had rolled down nearly 250 metres, he added.
In the past too, Chopal has seen frequent road accidents owing to bad road conditions and mountainous terrain but this was perhaps the “worst tragedy” in the area, officials said.
The conductor told the police that the bus had developed a snag at Vikas Nagar area (Uttarakhand) before it set out for the journey to Tuini – a regular route between the two states. The necessary repair work was done. But when the vehicle reached near Gumma, the accident site, there was a loud noise. Anticipating tragedy, he immediately jumped out of the bus and also sounded an alarm for the passengers, he told the police. Shimla SP said D W Negi prima facie the accident seemed to have been caused by rash and negligent driving but added that bad road conditions could also be a cause. “A probe is on,” he said.
Eyewitnesses said it was a challenging task to remove the bodies from the site. “Till 6 pm, we managed to take 20 bodies to the road area for postmortem and handing over to the families. Emotions were running high and the mood is difficult to describe. There is no history of such a heavy toll in the entire area,” said Deputy Commissioner Thakur. Till late evening Wednesday, 26 bodies were handed over to relatives while 19 bodies were yet to be identified. The Shimla police have appealed to all concerned to visit the Community Health Centre in Nerwa to identify the bodies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of those killed and Rs 50,000 for those seriously injured, from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.
State Transport Minister G S Bali announced financial assistance of Rs 50,000 to the family of each of the deceased. He also said a committee headed by the regional transport officer, Shimla, had been set up to ascertain the cause of the accident. The committee had been asked to submit its report within a week, he said.
Additional chief secretary (disaster management) Tarun Shridhar said the local administration had acted promptly to respond to the tragedy but casualties were high and nothing much could be done in terms of emergency medical care. But teams camped at the site to remove the bodies from the river and then do the legal formalities, apart from providing relief to the victims’ kin, he added.