BERHAMPUR: Dankalpadu resident G Ashok was supposed to get married to G Padma of Chikarada village. The marriage was scheduled next week and as per tradition, the negotiation ceremony was on Sunday. After snacks, the passengers, including ladies and kids, boarded the bus with traditional sweets, banana and coconut for the ceremony.
They were all in a joyful mood. Soon tragedy struck. Hours later, at Ashok’s house, a deathly silence prevailed as the soon-to-be-groom had lost his two elder sisters in the mishap. After sending the bus, Ashok was about to board a car to join his relatives when he heard about the incident. The village plunged into mourning as the wailing of the bereaved family members filled the air. The nine bodies were taken to Dankalpadu and after rituals, placed on the funeral pyre.
Those final moments
It was a fatal 10-minute span during which 27 persons, including a 12-year-old boy, had received an electric shock and were on the ground unconscious. Nine of them perished soon.
The luxury passenger bus was hired to carry 42 persons, mostly relatives and friends of G Ashok, to Chikarada, about 10 km from Dankalpadu.
The road to Chikarada is comparatively narrow and has several curves. The bus was proceeding at a slow pace. After 2 km, the top of the bus got stuck near Mendrajpur Chowk and the driver applied brakes, suspecting contact with the overhead 11 KV live. Once the bus stopped, the cleaner raised an alarm, jumped out of the bus and vanished.
Sixty-five-year-old Kamraju Reddy was the first to fall as he tried to get out through the main door. A mad rush prevailed as panic-stricken passengers tried to get down from the bus, screaming. Some jumped from the emergency exit along with their kids. Screams of the helpless passengers attracted the attention of the local shop owners at the Chowk who saw people getting electrocuted.
Jitendra Rao, who runs a welding shop near Mendrajpur Chowk, realised the bus had come in contact with live electricity wire and people were about to die. He dragged two passengers out of the bus and in the process, got burn injuries on his hand. Srinivasa Sethy, another local who was witness to the incident, was the first to call Southco to disconnect the power supply. Whosoever tried to come out of the bus using steps of the main door was electrocuted after touching the ground, he said. However, four kids and 15 adults who jumped from the exit window escaped with minor injuries.
Locals blame the district administration and Southco for Sunday’s tragedy. Due to the callous attitude of electricity staff, the power supply lines are sagging dangerously in most of the rural areas. During cyclone Phailin, seven persons had died due to electrocution, said N Damburu, a youth leader of the area.
In 2017, a bus was electrocuted and despite repeated appeals, no action has yet been taken to maintain height of the 11 KV supply lines.
Dambaru says, the bus driver is squarely responsible for the mishap. On its way from Berhampur to Dankalpadu, the bus had touched the overhead line but then there was no power supply. On the return journey, he should have adopted precaution. President of Ganjam district BJP Bibhuti Jena said, as per the norm, the 11 KV lines should have at least a clearance of nine-metre from the ground but most hang at seven-metre height.