KOLKATA: At least 36 people were killed and 11 people still missing after a bus skid off Balighat Bridge and plunged into Bhairab river near Daulatabad in Murshidabad district of West Bengal on Monday.
The incident occurred at around 6 am on Monday morning when the Malda-bound state bus from Karimpur in Nadia district broke the railing of the bridge and nose-dived into the river.
“We have reports that 56 passengers were in the bus. Thirty six bodies have been fished out, of which there are nine women and two children. Fourteen of them have been identified. Nine people have been admitted to the hospital and 11 people are still missing,” Murshidabad district Trinamool Congress youth leader Saumik Hossain said.
While the nine survivors, who were able to swim to the bank or were rescued by local fishermen, claimed that the bus driver was speaking over the phone while driving, the state government said that the accident took place when the bus maneuvered left to escape head-on collision with the truck coming from the opposition direction.
The bus could only be located at around 3 pm after which four 140 tonne-cranes began pulling it up. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) sources stated that all the bodies stuck inside the bus were fished out by the evening.
However, they added that several more bodies might be lying on the river bed or may have been pulled downstream.
“Many window panes on the left side of the bus were broken. We suspect that many more bodies might have flown off the broken windows while descending from 30 feet height of the bridge into the river. Due to poor light on Monday evening, divers would commence rescue operation from Tuesday morning onwards,” an NDRF source said.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to the spot by Monday afternoon and announced compensation. “The Murshidabad bus accident is a disaster and a result of human error. We will give compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the kin of the deceased, Rs 1 lakh each to the critically injured and Rs 50,000 to the injured,” she said.
On the other hand, angry locals stone-pelted on police and set police vehicles and fire tenders on fire on Monday morning alleging late response in commencing relief operations. The district magistrate and superintendent of police reached the spot but had to flee after facing the locals’ ire. Police lobbed tear gas shells and fired bullets in the air to disperse the mob.
Local MP and West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president Adhir Ranjan Choudhury said that the lives could have been saved. “Many people could have been saved had there been relief teams in Murshidabad district. I demand a full
investigation into the accident,” he said.
However, transport minister Suvendu Adhikari claimed that the rescue operations began on time. “The bus had drowned so deep into the river that it could not be located initially. The relief operations began within one hour of the incident,” he said. Some locals also stated that the condition of the bridge was dilapidated and an accident was in the offing.