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30 killed as bus falls into gorge in Jaintia hills

 Night bus from Silchar to Guwahati skidded off NH 44 near Durga temple at Sonapur into a 250-feet gorge on Tuesday night
Silchar/ Shillong, June 15: At least 30 passengers were killed and five others seriously injured when a night bus fell into a deep gorge in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district last night.
The bus, belonging to Arhans Tours and Travels, was plying from Silchar to Guwahati. According to police source, the bus skidded off NH 44 near the Durga temple at Sonapur and rolled down into a 250-feet gorge at around 10 pm.
Due to absence of electricity in the area, rescue operations could not be carried out promptly and effectively even as a large contingent of police from Umkiang assisted by BSF and the local VDP were pressed into action.
Lethindra Sangma, Additional Superintendent of Police of East Jaintia Hills, said the bus was carrying about 35 passengers. Of them, 30 died on the spot while 5 others, who sustained serious injuries, were rescued. The injured were rushed to Khliehriat Civil Hospital where their condition continues to be critical.
The deep gorge infested with jungles is steep. Rescuers used ropes to get down to the spot where the bus crashed.
According to Spill Thamar, police chief of East Jaintia Hills, the exact cause of accident is yet to be ascertained. He pointed out that rescuers had to risk their lives to climb down to the accident spot. The police chief also said though the area from Lumshnong to Ratacherra is highly accident prone, this is for the first time that a passenger bus fell from near the Durga temple area into the gorge.
When The Sentinel went to Arhans Tours and Travels located at Meherpur near this town for information about the mishap, their office was found locked and the shutters down. Anxious family members and relatives of the passengers have been frantically making attempts since morning to contact the owner and the manager of the operators, but their mobile phones were switched off.
According to local people, this travel agency has only been functioning for the last four months. Nobody in Meherpur area seems to know anything about the travel agency or its owner. In the absence of any information, the names of the passengers of the ill-fated bus could not be collected.
The Tongseng-Sonapur stretch has been witness to a series of fatal accidents. On January 26 this year, 11 passengers were killed when a night bus skidded off the highway and fell into a deep gorge at Tongseng village. The causes behind all these tragic accidents were overloading of passengers and goods, inebriated drivers, reckless driving, laxity in vigilance and enforcement of traffic rules, lack of protective measures as well as basic infrastructure for rescue and relief works all along the Sonapur-Tongseng zone. The investigation report on the August 8, 2012 accident at Tongseng by a team of officials of Tripura government headed by the Dholai district magistrate Abhishek Chandra, attributed the mishap to all these factors.
The police and transport departments of Assam and Meghalaya have been blamed for ignoring overloading and allowing drunken drivers at the wheel. If the governments of Assam and Meghalaya are serious about preventing such accidents in future, there should be coordinated moves to conduct surprise checks of vehicles to ensure no overloading of passengers and goods.
Even if the police conduct checks, it is for the sake of bribes only, said an official. The repeated complaints and representations of the Tripura government to the governments of Assam and Meghalaya for remedial measure have fallen on deaf years, the official rued. This brings to the fore the often repeated charge of nexus with transport lobby.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted twice in which he said, "Deeply pained by the loss of lives caused by a bus mishap in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills District." He also said, "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased in this hour of grief." (Source: SentinelAssam)