51 killed, 46 injured as bus falls into Himachal gorge (Fourth Lead)
Shimla, Aug 11 (IANS) At least 51 people, including 18 women, were killed and 46 others injured Saturday when an overcrowded bus rolled into a 300-feet deep gorge in Chamba in Himachal Pradesh, police said.
Most of the victims were going to Chamba town to participate in the Minjar, a Hindu fair that symbolises the blossoming of maize.
The private bus was going to Chamba town from Dularo village when it skidded off the road and fell into the 300-feet deep gorge near Gagaala, some 12 km from the town and around 475 km from the state capital.
"The 40-seater bus was overcrowded. People were even sitting on its roof," Chamba Deputy Commissioner Sunil Chaudhary told IANS.
He said 37 people, including the driver, died on the spot.
Most of the injured have been admitted to the district hospital in Chamba. Nine of the critically injured have been referred to the Rajendra Prasad Medical College in Tanda in Kangra district.
Eyewitness Vijay Singh told the police that as the driver was negotiating a turn, one of the front wheels came unstuck and the bus rolled down the hill.
One of the passengers Ashok Kumar said he heard a loud bang and the next moment the bus was hurtling down into the gorge.
Eyewitnesses said the administration had a tough time extricating the victims from the badly-mangled bus.
People in the area began rescue operations even before local authorities reached the spot.
Most of the victims were from Chamba district.
Expressing grief over the accident, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal ordered a magisterial inquiry into it and announced compensation for the families of the victims.
The government has announced an ex-gratia of Rs.100,000 to the next of kin of each of those killed and upto Rs.10,000 to those injured.
Governor Urmila Singh, assembly speaker Tulsi Ram and leader of opposition Vidya Stokes also expressed grief over the accident.
Chaudhary said most of the victims were coming to Chamba for the Minjar Fair. "Though the fair officially concluded Aug 5, the trade-cum-exhibition is on till August 12."
Chamba is one of remotest places in the state and scarcity and low frequency of passenger buses in the district leads to overcrowding of the vehicles.
The practice of travelling on the roof of the bus is prohibited but common in Himachal Pradesh, especially during festivals.
To prevent accidents, the government has banned use of mobile phones and music systems by drivers.
But police blamed buses belonging to private operators and their "reckless, untrained drivers" for most of the fatal accidents in the state.
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