7 pilgrims killed, 27 hurt as mini-bus falls into gorge

Wreckage of mini-bus lying in gorge in Thanamandi area on Sunday. —Excelsior/Gafoor Bhat
Wreckage of mini-bus lying in gorge in Thanamandi area on Sunday. —Excelsior/Gafoor Bhat

2 ambulance drivers among 3 suspended
Handicapped driver escapes from spot
Gopal Sharma
JAMMU, Aug 25: Seven pilgrims on way to Shahdara Sharief shrine were killed while 27 others injured, some of them seriously, when an overloaded mini-bus fell down into nearly 300- feet deep gorge near Maggi Morh in Thanamandi area of district Rajouri this afternoon.
The eye-witnesses said that mini-bus No. JK-12/2414, which was moving towards Thanamandi from Dera-Gali side on sloppy hill road was over speeding. The driver failed to control speeding vehicle at the U-turn near Maggi Morh. 2-3 three people on board the bus jumped out sensing trouble while the vehicle hit against bathroom of a house -cum- shopping complex at the curve.
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It broke the bathroom and then rolled down into a nearly 250-300 feet deep gorge, killing seven persons including three women and a child on the spot at around 12.45 pm. The vehicle was broken into pieces and its wreckage spread over some area.
A three-year- old child, Danish, son of Mohd Rafiq who was bathing in the bath tub in the bath-room, had miraculous escape even after the bath room was badly damaged in mishap.
This ill-fated vehicle, reportedly driven by a physically handicapped driver (lame of one leg), was carrying about 35 villagers from Khanetar in Poonch to Shahdara Sharief Ziarat near Thannamandi in district Rajouri. The vehicle had the capacity of just 16 passengers.
The overloaded vehicle of 2001 model was being driven by driver who has one artificial limb (Plastic leg). It started its journey from a village near Poonch at around 9.30 am. From Poonch up to Surankote, Daraba and Bafliaz, there are several police nakas and Traffic Police check posts but no official bothered to check the vehicle or intercepted and allowed it to move ahead as they `usually do’ on highways, raising question on the functioning of these agencies. This vehicle was scheduled to return to Khanetar in the evening.
Immediately after the mishap, the people of the area ran for rescue operation. The people from nearby Thanamandi town also arrived there. The police party and army jawans also reached there after some time. The injured were removed to Community Health Centre (CHC) Thanamandi in private vehicles as no ambulance and drivers were available in the hospital.
Four dead bodies were also shifted to CHC Thanamandi in private vehicles. One seriously injured succumbed in Thanamandi hospital. The locals alleged that only one doctor was available in the hospital and a few staff members. There was no ambulance for shifting injured to Rajouri district hospital. The locals provided their own vehicles for shifting them. There was no first – aid equipment/ material available in the hospital and the people turned angry. The Army came out for the help of the victims.
The angry people started protest demonstration against Hospital staff, BMO concerned, CMO Rajouri and local Administration. They blocked road at Shahdara Chowk and started protest demonstration. They said that there was no control of BMO or concerned CMO. Out of three ambulances sanctioned, not even single was available. Drivers and hospital staff generally keep them for their personal use. There is no control at all. They demanded that this hospital be closed and staff withdrawn from there.
They condemned the Administration and alleged that healthcare has deteriorated in the area during Governor’s rule. Even drip sets/ glucose bottles, important injections, cotton/ bandages, Betadine etc were not available and people purchased the same from the open market for the accident victims.
The Tehsildar and SHO rushed to the spot to clear the road but the angry mob did not buzz at all and continued their protest. Later, with the intervention of SDM Tanveer Ahmed and SDPO, the issue was resolved. SDM assured firm action.
The SDM then moved to the hospital and after holding inquiry, placed two ambulance drivers, Mohd Reyaz and Shakeel Ahmed and Pharmacist/ Storekeeper Ashraf Raina under suspension.
SSP Rajouri, Yougal Manhas said that the driver failed to control overspeeding vehicle at the curve and it landed into deep gorge killing five persons on the spot while two others succumbed to injuries in Rajouri hospital. He said the mini-bus was over loaded and all the passengers hailed from Khanetar village of Poonch. They were going to the Ziarat of Shahdara Sharief to offer prayers but remained unfortunate as they could not reach and met with the accident about 8 kms short of their destination.
The SSP further claimed that passengers were provided preliminary treatment at Thanamandi and then removed to District Hospital, Rajouri and from where 11 seriously injured were referred to GMC Hospital, Jammu.
The killed were identified as Abdul Qayoom (4), son of Sajjad Ahmed, Safia Bagum (33), wife of Pazir Ahmed; Mansha Begum (60), wife of Ali Mohd; Robina Kouser and Zareekha, daughters of Mohd Ishaq; Pazir Ahmed, son of Khadam Hussain and Qamar Din, son of Mohd Ishaq-all residents of Khanetar in Poonch.
Sources said that out of the 11 seriously injured shifted to Jammu, the condition of one of them was stated to be critical. They are-Aksar Ahmed (10), son of Pazeer, Imran (28), son of Mohd Ayub, Zareena Kouser (15), daughter of Mohd Issaq, Mushtaq Ali (25), son of Mohd Aslam, Asia Kouser (24), wife of Imran, Pazir Ahmed (14), son of Wazir, Rubina Kouser (13), daughter of Mohd Ishaq, Hussain Bibi (55), Shafina Bi (16) , daughter of Mohd Arif and two unknown minor boys.
Those undergoing treatment in Rajouri hospital are-Mohd Khalid, son of Mohd Arif,Parveen Kouser, wife of Mohd Sajjad, Mohd Sajjad, son of Mohd Latief, Mohd Khurshid, Yasir son of Rashid, Iqraf, son of Mohd Aslam, Ali Mohd, son of Noor Mohd, Mohd Ismail, Khalid Ahmed, Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohd Amin and Mohd Arif. Some were discharged after providing first- aid at CHC Thanamandi.
The eye -witnesses and some injured told the police that driver had one plastic leg. He also sustained injuries and was found collecting purses and other belongings of the passengers and the dead. But he escaped from the spot before the police arrived there. Some people also tried to take his video and asked how he was driving this vehicle and who had issued him the license. Sensing trouble, he managed to escape. One of the injured told police that one relative of driver Khalil also advised him not to drive as he was handicapped. He asked him not to go to Shahdara Sharief and send a driver but he did not agree it resulted into a big tragedy.
Deputy Commissioner, Rajouri, Aijaz Ahmed Asad when contacted and asked about any inquiry being conducted to find how a handicapped person managed driving licence and allowed to driver passenger vehicle, said he has come to know about it. The police has already registered a case in this connection.
This is very serious issue. A separate inquiry is being initiated and the responsibility would be fixed on the concerned officials. Even this vehicle crossed many police nakas and traffic police points en-route and moved unchecked. He maintained that the vigilant citizens should also play their role and should have objected when a handicapped driver, came out to drive their vehicle. But certainly there would be an action, the District Magistrate asserted.