At least 44 people were killed and 34 others injured when an overloaded bus fell into a deep drain in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh on Thursday, officials said.
The private bus (bearing registration number HP 66-7065) fell into the over 300-metre-deep nullah near the Dhoth Morh in Banjar tehsil of the district, Kullu Superintendent of Police Shalini Agnihotri said, adding the vehicle was en route Gada Gushaini.
Prima facie, it seems that overloading and negligent driving may have caused the accident, Banjar Patwari Sheetal Kumar said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi condoled the death of people, with the former saying the state government is extending all possible help to the injured.
"Deeply saddened by the bus accident in Kullu. Condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. I hope the injured recover soon. The Himachal Pradesh Government is providing all possible assistance that is required," the prime minister's office tweeted quoting Modi.
Expressing his heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in incident, Gandhi asked Congress workers in the area to help the victims.
"I am sad over the bus accident in Kullu in Himachal Pradesh. I express my heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in this accident and pray for early recovery of the injured. I urge Congress party workers in the area to help the affected people," he said in a tweet in Hindi.
Additional SP of Kullu Rajkumar Chandel said the toll in the accident has touched 44, and added that the injured were undergoing treatment at the Banjar Civil Hospital and the Kullu district hospital. Most of the victims were residents of various areas in Kullu district.
Some of the severely injured passengers have been shifted to PGI Chandigarh, he said.
Himachal Pradesh governor Acharya Devvrat and chief minister Jai Ram Thakur expressed grief over the tragic accident. In their condolence messages, they prayed for peace to the departed souls and strength to the bereaved family members, an official spokesperson said.
The chief minister has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident, the official said, adding that Thakur also asked the administration to provide best possible medicare to the injured passengers.
Meanwhile, state transport minister Govind Singh Thakur left for Kullu from Shimla after learning about the accident.
The Kullu district administration announced an immediate relief of Rs 50,000 to the kin of each of the deceased and the injured.
Piyush Tewari, founder of SaveLIFE Foundation said, "It's a shame that mass-casualty bus crashes have become a norm in India, especially in hilly states like Himachal Pradesh."
"The state government must immediately order a summary audit of all roads, and engineers and contractors responsible for missing basic installations like crash barriers must be booked for causing countless deaths and injuries," he said.