*Governor, CS, CEO SASB visit spot; enquiry ordered
JAMMU, July 16: In a tragic incident, 17 Amarnath pilgrims were killed and 28 others sustained injuries, 17 of them critically, when a bus of State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) plunged into 200 feet deep gorge in Ramban district this afternoon after developing mechanical snag. All the injured were, later, shifted to Jammu and Srinagar in vehicles and choppers as facilities and manpower in the local hospital were not adequate to provide timely and specialized treatment to them.
The accident sent shock wave in different parts of the country particularly in the States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Assam, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh from where these pilgrims had come to pay obeisance at the cave shrine of Shri Amarnathji in South Kashmir.
Though some of the officers, who were engaged in the rescue operation, said that SRTC vehicle had suddenly developed mechanical snag, others are of the saying that one of the tyres of the bus got burst as a result of which vehicle went out of the driver’s control and plunged into gorge.
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However, the factual position will emerge only after detailed investigation into the accident by the police, which has registered a case in this connection at Banihal Police Station. Even Managing Director of SRTC has ordered inquiry keeping in view the fact that vehicle was declared mechanically fit for being used in Amarnath yatra only two days back.
The ill-fated vehicle bearing registration number JK02Y-0594 was part of Amarnath yatra convoy and had left Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas in the wee hours for Pahalgam. At Nachlana, 13 kilometers short of Banihal town, the vehicle suddenly went out of the control of driver and plunged into 200 feet deep gorge. The vehicle, as per the police personnel, fell on a huge rock with big bang causing grievous injuries to all the passengers.
Such was the impact of collision with rock that parts of the vehicle were seen scattered over a large area. Even bodies of the deceased passengers had to be searched before being brought out of the gorge and shifted to Sub-District Hospital Banihal.
The police and CRPF personnel, who were already deployed on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway to facilitate smooth movement of yatra vehicles, immediately swung into action to rescue the pilgrims. Army personnel from 12 and 23 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) unit also rushed to the spot along with all the necessary equipment and started rescue operation. They were joined by locals of Nachalana. SP Ramban Mohan Lal also reached the spot within the shortest possible time and personally supervised the entire rescue operation.
However, bringing injured passengers and bodies out of the gorge was not an easy task because of the terrain and it was only after hectic efforts that rescue teams brought out 11 dead bodies and 34 injured from the spot of accident and shifted them to Sub-District Hospital in different vehicles. In the process of shifting, five more passengers succumbed to injuries raising the toll to 16.
As the facilities and manpower in the Sub-District Hospital Banihal were not sufficient to provide timely and specialized treatment to the injured, helicopter of Indian Air Force was pressed into service on the directions of Governor N N Vohra and 18 pilgrims were airlifted to Jammu in two sorties for treatment in Government Medical College and Hospital. The remaining 11 injured pilgrims were shifted to Srinagar in different vehicles by the Ramban district administration. One of the injured admitted in the GMC Jammu succumbed to injuries later raising the toll in the accident to 17.
Later, 16 dead bodies were also airlifted from Banihal to Jammu and kept in the morgue of Government Medical College and Hospital so as to avoid hassles in sending the same to their home States. Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board, on the request made by civil administration, also provided coffins for shifting of bodies of deceased to their native towns.
Earlier, on learning about the unfortunate accident Governor N N Vohra, who is also Chairman of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, immediately flew to Banihal along with B B Vyas, Chief Secretary and Umang Narula, Chief Executive Officer of the Board, to see to the rescue operations being carried out by the district administration Ramban with the help of Indian Air Force.
Governor saw the critically injured pilgrims who were airlifted in a M17 helicopter after he arrived at Banihal. He met the doctors and enquired about the medical treatment given to the pilgrims before they were airlifted in his presence. He also visited the Banihal Sub-District Hospital where, after discussion with the Chief Secretary and the attending doctors, he directed that the bodies of the 16 dead pilgrims be transported to Jammu from where after embalming and other formalities the dead bodies would be sent by the civil airlines to the home towns of the dead.
Governor drove to the site of the accident where this unfortunate accident took place. Appreciating the prompt relief provided by a local NGO, “Youth Against Evils, Banihal”, who rescued the injured pilgrims, in co-ordination with the district administration, Governor sanctioned an amount of Rs 5 lakh for this NGO, for strengthening their humanitarian endeavours.
On behalf of the Shrine Board he announced relief of Rs 3 lakh to the next of kin of those killed in the incident and Rs1 lakh each to those who had suffered injuries.
Later, Governor directed Chief Secretary to immediately ensure that no SRTC bus is deployed on long distance duty, particularly across the Banihal, which has not been thoroughly checked and certified fit for operation by a responsible ranking SRTC officer.
In the evening, Managing Director of J&K SRTC Mir Afroz Ahmed told EXCELSIOR that vehicle was declared mechanically fit for being used in Amarnath yatra by Tata Motors and Corporation’s mechanics two days back. “It was only on the basis of this clearance that vehicle was allowed to carry pilgrims”, he added.
“An in-house inquiry committee has been constituted to look into the circumstances that led to this tragic accident”, he said, adding “the inquiry committee has been asked to submit report within two days”.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has expressed deep shock and immense grief over the death of pilgrims. She has conveyed her heart-felt sympathies to the bereaved families in their hour of grief and prayed for eternal peace to the departed souls.
The Chief Minister has asked the administration to ensure best possible treatment to the injured pilgrims. She has directed the Divisional Commissioner Jammu to immediately release the ex-gratia amount in favor of the next of kin of the deceased and make arrangements for sending the bodies of the deceased to their homes.
Minister of State in PMO Dr Jitendra Singh has also expressed shock over the tragic road accident involving Amarnath pilgrims. “Extremely saddened by loss of lives of devotees on their way to Darshan of holy shrine”, he said in a message, adding “the administration has been asked to provide all possible medicare to the injured pilgrims”.
Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Nirmal Singh has also expressed shock and grief over the death of pilgrims and issued directions for providing best possible medicare to the injured.
National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah and Working President Omar Abdullah, while expressing profound grief and shock over the tragic accident, have prayed for the speedy recovery of those who have sustained injuries in the accident.
The deceased persons have been identified as Pawan Kumar, son of Dian Nath Parshad of Bihar, Dalip Kumar, son of Dina Nath Parshad of Bihar, Rohit Kumar, son of Shyam Parshad of Bihar, Sagar Kumar, son of Pardeep Parshad of Bihar, Ram Karan Sharma, son of Gagan Sahai of Rajasthan, Shalinder Singh, son of Balram Singh of Rajasthan, Ravinder Singh, son of Raghubir Singh of UP, Ravinder Singh, son of Rajinder Singh of UP, Rahul Kumar, son of Daleep Singh of Golapur, Meena Devi, wife of Zuhar Sahu of Bihar, Sikander, son of Pritam of UP, Sheeshpal Saini, son of Ganpat Ram of Saini Nagar Nawalgarh, Darshan Singh, son of Chajju Ram of Bishnah, Gogal Chand, son of Ghanisham, Rachet Sharma, son of H L Sharma of New Delhi and Chander Kumar. One deceased remained unidentified till late tonight.
The injured pilgrims have been identified as Pankaj Kushwah, son of Gajan Singh of Gwalior, Gori Shanker Sharma, son of Fateh Shanker of Rajasthan, Rajat Kumar, son of Vijay Chorasia of Bihar, Dheeraj Kumar, son of Rajinder Kumar of UP, Danesh Kumar, son of Bhawani Singh of Rajasthan, Sunder Singh, son of Hari Singh of Panipat, Rajit Sharma, son of H.L Sharma of Delhi, Chander Parkash, son of Kamal Sharma of MP, Baby Devi, wife of Dilshan Raj of Bihar, Rekha Devi, wife of Satguru Sharma of Bihar, Giri Raj, son of Suresh Singh of MP, Hari Om Sharma, son of Sia Ram Sharma of Rajasthan, Vipun Joshi, son of Dalip Joshi of Madhya Pardesh, Ranjeet Kumar, son of Sukhdev Chowdhary of Bihar, Davinder Singh, son of Ragubir Singh of Modi Nagar UP, Shishu Pal, son of Dhantap of Rajasthan, Gokul Chand Saini, son of Ghansham of Rajasthan, Tara Chand son of Sita Ram of Rajasthan, Chandan, son of Madan Lal of Punjab, Chand Pati Devi, wife of Silla Matfi of UP, Satesh Rawal, son of Satpal Rawal of Haryana, Satender Tewari, son of Radha Krishan of MP, Vijay Kumar, son of Sooraj Narayan of Bihar, Chetan Mishra, son of Rajender Mishra of Haryana, Deebar Golf, son of Bopinder of Assam, Naresh Dudajee, son of Om Prakash of Haryana, Bevey Singh, son of Durga Nath of Shimla.