A bus carrying pilgrims fell into a 330-feet gorge near Nashik, killing 39 of its passengers and injuring another 41, late Sunday night. Thirteen women and seven children are among those who have died. The incident highlights how India’s road safety standards have not kept up with its rapid economic growth. Around 10,000 people die every year on Maharashtra’s highways every year in accidents, making it among the top three states with killer roads.
The pilgrims, most of whom were from Mumbai, were returning from the Saptashringi shrine at Vani (approximately 220 km north of the city), when the driver Paras Janardhan Thorat lost control of his vehicle as it skidded off a sharp hairpin bend. Thorat then chose to jump off the bus, causing it to careen over the side of the deep gorge.
“The driver was speeding through the whole journey. Someone should have told him to take it easy,” says 23-year-old victim Pandurang Chavan from Prabhadevi in central Mumbai, who broke his legs in the mishap. Thorat surrendered to the police early this morning.
Nashik district Superintendent of Police Nikhil Gupta said, “It seems the driver was negligent. We are also investigating if the bus was overloaded as we have heard the victims say that the driver picked up more people than he was supposed to from Vani.”
For the residents of localities such as Worli, Byculla and Arthur Road, Worli-based Sadguru Saibaba Seva Mandal had organised this pilgrimage to Shirdi, Shanishingnapur and Vani. Out on what should have just been an excursion, six-year-old Krishna Patil barely knows what has hit him. “Krishna has been wailing for his mother since he was admitted to hospital. I don’t have the heart to tell him that his mother is no more,” whispers Nirmal Hatkar, as she cradles the son of her nephew.
Public Works Department Minister and Guardian Minister for Nashik district Chhagan Bhujbal has announced a compensation package of Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased and a package of Rs 5,000-50,000 to the injured.