At least 35 people died and 17 others were injured when an overcrowded bus skidded off a hilly road and fell into a deep gorge in Jammu and Kashmir's Kishtwar district on Monday, officials said.
The minibus, which was on its way from Keshwan to Kishtwar, skidded off the Keshwan-Thakrai road and rolled down into the gorge around 7.30 am, officials said.
Kishtwar Deputy Commissioner A S Rana told PTI that the 28-seater bus was carrying 52 passengers when the accident happened, adding that a probe would be ordered.
35 people died and 17 others were injured, district Senior Superintendent of Police Shakti Pathak told PTI.
Police, security agencies and locals helped in rescuing the injured. Sixteen injured people were airlifted to hospitals from the spot, officials said. Nine of them were admitted to Government Medical College Hospital in Jammu.
The Indian Air Force pressed into service two MI-17 choppers to ferry the injured to hospitals from Keshwan apart from Pawan Hans chopper.
Of the 35 people dead in the accident, 13 are females.
The dead included a 45-day-old baby, and three teenagers (Sajan Sharma and Waseem Raja -- both 18 -- and 19-year-old Shazia).
Governor Satya Pal Malik expressed grief and announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of the kin of the dead. He directed administration officials to provide the best medical treatment to the injured and wished them speedy recovery.
Malik said reasons behind the accident would be probed thoroughly and strong decisions would be taken in the next state administrative council meeting.
A few months ago, the governor had directed the transport department officers to take away unfit vehicles and untrained drivers off the road, according to a Raj Bhawan spokesperson.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the loss of lives.
'The accident in Jammu and Kashmir's Kishtwar is heart-wrenching. We mourn all those who lost their lives and express condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover at the earliest,' Modi tweeted.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also expressed sorrow over the deaths.
'Extremely saddened to learn about the loss of lives due to a road accident in Kishtwar, Jammu & Kashmir. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones. I pray of the speedy recovery of those injured,' he tweeted.
Several other leaders, including Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Gulam Nabi Azad, Gulam Ahmed Mir and M Y Tarigami expressed condolences to the families who lost their family members.
Bharatiya Janata Party state president Ravinder Raina said the accident has raised a big question mark on the management of traffic in hilly areas and a high-level inquiry should be conducted to fix responsibility for repeated accidents.
International Road Federation (IRF), the Geneva-based global body working for better and safer roads worldwide, expressed deep concern at the deaths in the accident.
"...A lot needs to be done to ensure road safety, especially in higher areas in the states of J&K, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and North East states in the country.
"The government should plan to incorporate the latest technologies and safety features, including installation of soil and slope stabilisation and roadside safety in the hilly terrain infrastructure, crash barriers, intelligent traffic plans, rumble strips, use of speed governors and proper signages," said K K Kapila, president emeritus, IRF.
Kapila also called for installation of crash barriers, special separate tough driving license for hill drivers and use of vehicle tracking system.
"India accounts for highest number of road accident deaths and accounts for more than 10 per cent of global road accident deaths.
"During the year 2017 about 1.46 lakh people died in road accidents in the country. As a signatory to THE UN Decade of Action Plan, reiterated in Brasilia, India is committed to reduce the number of road accidents and fatalities by half by the year 2020," said Kapila.