In one of the worst road accidents, a bus carrying at least 47 passengers travelling from Vikasnagar to Tyuni on Wednesday fell into the Tons river near Nerwa town in Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, killing 45 people, including 31 men, 10 women and 4 children.
Leaf Spring of the bus snapped before the accident
The accidents took place 12 km from the Uttarakhand border, near Gumma in Nerva tehsil. It is 190 km away from the state capital and is one of the remotest regions in the state.
One of the passengers and the conductor managed to jump off the bus minutes before it skidded down the mountain. The surviving passenger, Naresh Chauhan claimed that one of the leaf springs of the bus snapped just prior to the accident. The driver and the conductor knew that the bus was in a technical distress as they got down mid-way to check the broken leaf spring.
“The driver and the conductor got down from the bus when the leaf spring broke down. After inspecting the leaf spring, they continued with the journey,” he told police. “At one point the driver tried to apply brakes and the bus tilted.”
Locals reported that a loud thud was heard and they saw the private bus (UK-16PA-0045) roll down into the river. They informed police about the tragic accident, following which two teams from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) of Uttarakhand and a medical team from Himachal Pradesh reached the spot.
The rescue operation
Additional director general of police (law and order), Uttarakhand, Ram Singh Meena confirmed the death toll which is likely to rise to 56. “The bus was carrying at least 47 passengers and 45 bodies have been recovered,” he told The Times of India.
Eyewitnesses to the accident said though villagers began the rescue operation even before the authorities could reach the spot, the administration had a tough time extracting bodies of the victims from the mangled remains of the bus. It took hours to bring up the bodies from the river due to the steep terrain.
“All bodies were badly mutilated”, said Shimla SP DW Negi. “They have been recovered and are in the process of identification.”
Out of the twenty-five bodies that have been identified yet, 16 of them are from Uttarakhand. The unidentified bodies have been kept at the government hospital in Nerwa.
The conductor, identified as Tulsi Ram, a resident of Uttarakhand, has been held for questioning by the Himachal Pradesh police.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of each deceased and Rs 50,000 for those critically injured.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had visited the accident site, and also declared a compensation of Rs 1 lakh for families of the dead and Rs 50,000 for those wounded. He also directed Amit Negi, secretary of disaster management department, to be in touch with authorities in Himachal Pradesh.
The governor of Himachal Pradesh Acharya Devvrat and chief minister Virbhadra Singh expressed grief over a large number of deaths.
The Logical Indian Take
Shimla deputy commissioner Rohan Chand Thakur said to the Business Standard, “The terrain where the accident occurred is very tough. Without a probe, it’s difficult to say whether the accident happened due to human error or mechanical failure.”
However, a survey on road accidents conducted by the Himachal police from 2006 to 2012 had discovered 314 ‘black spots’ in the state, where 4,488 accidents had taken place in 6 years, leading to the death of 1,048 people and wounding 6,844 others. The state authorities had planned to put up barricades on the sides of sharp road bends, but it is yet to be executed.
So who is to be blamed for the accident that caused the death of nearly 50 people?
The driver and the conductor were well aware of the technical glitch of the bus but kept driving without informing the passengers who might have asked for a ticket refund or a separate mode of transportation.
The state government was also aware of the condition of the roads but had taken no action. Congress has demanded that CM Rawat increases the Rs 1 lakh compensation to the families of the bus victims to Rs 5 lakh. However, the Congress’ assertion points to blatant hypocrisy as the party has ruled Uttarakhand for the last 5 years and BJP’s CM Rawat only came into power on 18 March 2017. Congress needs to share the blame for the accident without using it as a political agenda.
According to a survey, the majority of deaths and disabilities in Uttarakhand were caused because of Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) in the hilly districts of the state, and the most common cause of RTA was driving fault, followed by defective roads.
In this case, too, the accident is a shared responsibility of the driver, the conductor, and the state authority for its neglect of the state of roads.
As a multi-sectoral issue, road safety requires participation from all stakeholders. It is a combination of development and management of road infrastructure, legislation and law enforcement, and provision of safer vehicles. The success of road safety depends upon a large amount of support and common action from all stakeholders – the driver, the conductor, the passengers, and most importantly, the government.
In Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, road accidents mainly occur due to poorly developed national highways, bad infrastructure and neglected hazard zones.
While Wednesday’s accident is distressing, it also points to the lack of such facilities in the hilly regions of North India.
Though the victims’ families will receive compensation from the central and state governments, no amount of money can make full retribution for their loss. The only solution to prevent such accidents in the future is that the government implements stricter laws and safer roads, and drivers of public transport thoroughly check the vehicle before taking the responsibility of the lives of 50 innocent people.