In the worst-ever tragedy to strike the Road Transport Corporation from the time of undivided Andhra Pradesh, 57 persons, including four children and 30 women, died when a bus packed with 98 passengers plunged downhill into a valley near Shanivarpet village in Jagitial district on Tuesday. Another 43 passengers who were injured, some of them seriously, have been shifted to various hospitals in Jagitial, Karimnagar and Hyderabad.The 40-seater bus was taking a deep downhill curve in the last lap of the Kondagattu ghat section when the driver lost control over the wheel, resulting in the bus overturning several times on the hill slope, literally crushing many of the passengers in the process.
Sources said the driver, who was also among the dead, was taking the slope in neutral gear. When he applied brakes suddenly at a speed-breaker at the curve, passengers standing behind fell on him, leading to his losing control of the vehicle. The sheer number of passengers shifting their body weight to one side at the curve could also be a factor in the driver losing control, sources said.
The Anjaneya Swamy temple at Kondagattu is a popular pilgrim centre in North Telangana, and Tuesdays are particularly considered auspicious for people to make offerings to the presiding deity. Hundreds of people had descended on the hill shrine on Tuesday and there was a heavy rush of pilgrims returning home.
Sources said the bus, which was on a round trip from Jagitial picking up passengers from villages en route, was packed to capacity by the time it reached Kondagattu. It is learnt that the RTC had banned bus service on this particular ghat route way back in 2013 in view of the high risk involved. The Jagitial depot manager, however, had allowed buses to ply on this route from Kondagattu to Jagitial since a week in order to increase profits, sources said, adding there were no signposts to indicate the deep curves and speed-breakers on this particular route in the ghat section.
The scene of the accident presented a horrific sight with bodies, including those of children lying scattered on the hill. Several wounded passengers were in shock as they were helped by locals. The farmers working in close vicinity of the accident site said they heard a loud bang and rushed to the spot to help the victims even before the police and revenue authorities reached the spot. The hilly terrain is dotted with huge boulders which may have also added to the fatalities.
The irony is that the bus would have been on safe plains (Jagitial-Karimnagar main road) if it had covered another 100 metres, which probably would have taken just a minute. Most of the victims belonged to Jagitial and Peddapalli districts.
IT and Industries Minister K T Rama Rao, who rushed to the accident site along with Transport Minister P Mahender Reddy and Nizamabad MP K Kavitha, said it was the worst incident in the history of the RTC. Stating that it was a clear case of negligence of RTC authorities, the Minister announced the suspension of the Jagitial depot manager. Finance Minister Etela Rajendar, who was in his constituency in Karimnagar district, cancelled his programmes and rushed to the accident site.
The Chief Minister also announced Rs 5 lakh as ex-gratia to the families who lost their loved ones in the Kondagattu bus acciden