A village cricket team's celebrations after winning a local championship were tragically cut short when their vehicle skidded off the road and rolled down a 700-metre-deep gorge on the Bharmour-Badgran link road in Himachal Pradesh's Chamba district on Sunday night.
Twelve people, including four schoolchildren, from the tribal Bharmour subdivision of the district were killed. Their Bolero Camper, a multi-utility vehicle (MUV), fell into the Kuthar Palani Nullah about 30km from Bharmour and around 85km from Chamba town.
Police officials said the accident occurred between 9pm and 10pm when the driver lost control of the vehicle. All 12 occupants died on the spot. Eleven of the victims belonged to Palani village and one hailed from Dhuned village of Badgran panchayat.
Local residents said the team had won the local cricket championship and organised a victory party at nearby Tripan village in the evening before beginning the return journey.
Additional district magistrate (ADM), Bharmour, BR Kamal reached the spot with a rescue team comprising policemen, Home Guards personnel and health officials. However, the darkness and the steep slopes hampered the operation.
"All 12 bodies were recovered early on Monday," said Kamal, adding that prima facie, rash and negligent driving seemed be have caused the accident.
The badly disfigured bodies were cremated on the spot after a post-mortem examination.
The deceased have been identified as Pritam Singh (26) of Dhuned village and Palani residents Yograj (23), Sarwan (24), Ramesh Chand (26), Rakesh Kumar (24), Kahan Singh (24), Santosh Kumar (18), Ravinder Singh (15), Amit Kumar (15), Lucky (14), Anoop (11) and driver Raj Kumar (29). Ravinder, Amit, Lucky and Anoop were school students.
"The administration has provided Rs. 10,000 each as interim relief to families of the deceased," Kamal added.
Chamba is one of remotest places in the state and the scarcity and low frequency of passenger buses in the district leads to overcrowding of vehicles.
Chatar Singh, former sarpanch of Badgran panchayat, alleged that the Bharmour-Badgran road was in poor shape. "We have repeatedly submitted a memorandum to the authorities for widening the road, but to no avail," he said.
The road has witnessed two major accidents in the past decade or so. Nine people had died in a mishap in 2002, while an equal number lost their lives in a 2009 incident.
Governor, CM express grief
Himachal Pradesh governor Urmila Singh, chief minister Virbhadra Singh and the entire cabinet have expressed grief over the Chamba accident. The CM has directed the district administration to provide all possible help to the affected families.
* Rash driving is said to have caused the accident
* Cricket team had organised victory party before beginning the return journey
*All 12 occupants of the Bolero died on the spot
* This is the third major mishap on the 'unsafe' Bharmour-Badgran link road in the past decade; earlier accidents claimed nine lives each