Nagpur, July 1
Twenty-five passengers were charred to death when the bus they were travelling in caught fire after hitting a pole and a divider on the Samruddhi Expressway in Maharashtra’s Buldhana district in the wee hours of Saturday, police said.
The private sleeper coach bus was on its way to Pune from Nagpur when it met with the accident around 1.30 am at Pimpalkhuta village near Sindkhedraja, approximately 130 km from here, they said.
Eight others, including the bus driver and its cleaner, survived the tragedy as they managed to come out of the vehicle in time with some survivors recounting that they had to break windows to save themselves. All of them are safe.
Since the victims’ bodies are charred beyond recognition, the authorities have decided to conduct a DNA testing to identify them before handing them over to their relatives.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde ordered a probe into the accident and announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh for the families of each deceased.
President Droupadi Murmu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other leaders expressed grief over the loss of lives.
Buldhana SP Sunil Kadasne said, “There were 33 people on board the bus, of whom 25 were charred to death. Eight others survived the tragedy and they were taken to a nearby hospital. They are safe.” The bus belonging to Vidarbha Travels had left Nagpur for Pune at 4 pm on Friday. It stopped at Karanja in Yavatmal district for dinner but met with the accident some time later, the police said.
“After hitting the pole and divider, the bus overturned and fell on its right side with its entry/exit door of facing the sky. Within minutes, the vehicle caught fire. Some of the passengers were able to come out of the broken windows from the rear side,” a senior police official from Buldhana said.
An offence was registered against the driver following his interrogation, he said.
One of the survivors of the ill-fated bus said he and a few others managed to come out of the vehicle by breaking its rear window.
A local resident, who rushed to the site, said the people who could come out of the bus later told him that they sought help from other vehicles on the highway, but nobody stopped.
The Amravati Regional Transport Office (RTO) stated in its report that a tyre burst could not have caused the accident as there were no pieces of rubber or tyre markings at the scene.
As per the details provided by one of the survivors, the bus dashed into a steel pole on the right side of the road, leading to the driver losing control of the vehicle, which then hit the divider, the report said.
The police suspect that the accident was caused by “human error”.
An official of the highway police said, contrary to the driver’s claim that the bus caught fire after hitting a divider following a tyre burst, police believe that he dozed off and lost control of the vehicle.
PM Modi had inaugurated the 520-km-long Phase-1 of the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Mahamarg in December last year.
CM Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis visited the accident site in the afternoon. The completely burnt bus could be seen lying at the site with some half-burnt bags and mobile chargers of passengers scattered there.
Shinde termed the accident as “unfortunate” and stressed the need for drivers on the expressway to exercise caution while driving.
Speaking to reporters at the accident site, he said measures would be taken to prevent accidents on the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Expressway.
“So far, most of the accidents on the Samruddhi Expressway have occurred due to human errors. But the government has taken this accident seriously and steps will be taken to ensure that accidents and errors don’t happen,” he said.
The bodies of the deceased have been kept at the Buldhana civil hospital, officials said.
In a tweet, president Murmu said, “The heart-wrenching tragedy in Buldhana, Maharashtra, claiming many precious lives, including children and women, is extremely disturbing. My deepest condolences to the bereaved families… .” PM Modi tweeted, “Deeply saddened by the devastating bus mishap in Buldhana, Maharashtra. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives. May the injured recover soon. The local administration is providing all possible assistance to the affected.” Home Minister Shah described the accident as heart-breaking. “In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident,” he tweeted in Hindi.
Union minister Nitin Gadkari said in a tweet that the death of passengers in the accident was very unfortunate, painful and tragic.
Fadnavis said, “As per preliminary information given by the Buldhana SP, the bus belonging to Vidarbha travels hit a pole and then the diesel tank burst, then it caught fire.” Talking to reporters, he said a smart system is being installed on the Samruddhi Expressway to prevent accidents.
“The bodies of the accident victims are charred beyond recognition. They would be handed over to the families after the identity is established. But in case the identity is not established, then a DNA test will have to be done,” he said.
“Only vehicle error and human error have been noticed in the accidents that occurred on the expressway so far,” he added.
Shiv Sena (UBT) president Uddhav Thackeray accused the government of not doing anything to stop accidents on the Samruddhi Expressway.
The Buldhana accident should serve as an eye-opener for the government as more than 300 people have lost their lives on the expressway since it was inaugurated last year, he said.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar expressed grief over the tragedy and said the government needs to take steps to curb the speed limit of private vehicles.
“The government should take immediate steps to prevent accidents,” he said.