At least 26 passengers were charred to death after the bus they were travelling in caught fire after hitting a divider following a tyre burst on the Samruddhi Expressway in Maharashtra’s Buldhana district in the wee hours of Saturday, police said.
The private bus was on its way from Nagpur to Pune when it rammed into a divider around 1.30 am at Pimpalkhuta village near Sindkhedraja in Buldhana, around 134 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 burning vehicle through broken windows, the police said, adding that the driver was being interrogated and the process of arresting him was underway.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde ordered a probe into the accident and announced ex-gratia of Rs five lakh for the families of each deceased.
Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the bodies of the deceased were charred beyond recognition and if the identity of the victims is not established, then DNA testing will be conducted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other leaders expressed grief over the loss of lives.
Talking to PTI, Buldhana Superintendent of Police Sunil Kadasne said, ”There were 33 passengers in the bus, of whom 25 were charred to death. The other eight passengers were taken to a nearby hospital and are safe.” As per the preliminary information, a tyre of the bus burst and the vehicle hit a pole before colliding with a divider and catching fire, he said.
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 after it resumed the journey, the police said.
”After hitting the divider, the bus fell on its right side with the entry/exit door of the bus 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. One of the survivors of the ill-fated bus said he and a few others managed to come out of the burning vehicle by breaking its rear window. ”A tyre of the bus burst and the vehicle caught fire immediately. The blaze spread in no time. A passenger sitting next to me and I managed to escape by breaking the rear window,” he said.
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.
CM Shinde spoke to Buldhana district collector and SP and took stock of the situation, a statement issued by the chief minister’s office said.
A medical team and the fire brigade personnel stationed on the expressway reached the spot and started the rescue work. The injured were taken to a nearby hospital, it said.
Shinde termed the accident as ”unfortunate” and stressed the need for drivers on the expressway to exercise caution while driving. In a tweet, PM Modi said, ”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 heartbreaking. ”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. Deputy CM Fadnavis condoled the death of passengers and said the injured ones are out of danger. ”…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,” Fadnavis said.
Talking to reporters, he said a smart system is being installed on the Samruddhi Expressway to prevent accidents. ”The system will check the speed of vehicles and alert them. But it will take some time. Till then, we will have to create awareness among drivers at the toll booths on what precautions need to be taken to prevent accidents at night,” he said. ”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 by any other means, then a DNA test will have to be done,” he said. Brushing aside criticism about the poor quality of construction of the expressway, he said, ”Only vehicle error and human error have been noticed in the accidents that occurred on the expressway so far,” he said.
PM Modi had inaugurated the 520-km-long Phase-1 of the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Mahamarg in December last year. Officially named as ‘Hindu Hrudaysamrat Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg’, it is a pet project of Fadnavis.
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, adding he had expressed concern over the number of accidents on the expressway just last week.
Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Ajit Pawar said with the bus accident, the issue of security of vehicles and passengers has once again come to the fore.
The government needs to work on emergency measures to prevent such accidents. The spate of accidents on the expressway continues due to the bad quality of the expressway and human errors, he said.