ACCIDENT WATCH: Crash echoes strike cause – One dies & 11 injured as bus falls into ditch – strike to continue, till Bengal relents ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Alipurduar, Sept. 7: Bad condition of roads in north Bengal took its toll on passengers’ safety today when a Guwahati-bound bus fell into a ditch, killing one person and injuring 11 others. The accident occurred when the driver tried to avoid a deep pothole on NH31C at Basti Bazar near Jaigaon around 2.30am.
Private bus owners of Siliguri, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar have been on an indefinite strike from August 31 to protest the bad condition of the roads in north Bengal. The bus owners did not withdraw the strike even after state public works minister Kshiti Goswami had assured them during an emergency meeting in Jalpaiguri on September 2 that the roads would be repaired within a fortnight.
Police said the bus had left Siliguri at 8.30pm and it was carrying 34 passengers bound for Meghalaya.
“Most of the passengers were from Balia in Uttar Pradesh. There were a lot of goods on the roof of the bus.The bus driver has been arrested,” said David Lepcha, the subdivisional police officer of Alipurduar.
While Goroknath Gupta, 45, died on the spot, 11 others were taken to the air force hospital in Hashimara by the local people. Later, the injured were shifted to the subdivisional hospital in Alipurduar.
According to the local people, there were three deep potholes filled with rainwater on the highway near the air force station in Hashimara. “The driver could not see the holes in the darkness and he lost control of the bus. The vehicle toppled on the left and fell into the water-filled ditch,” said Mithun Saha, a local trader who was among the rescuers.
The accident spot is 140km from Siliguri.
Bewas Prasad, who suffered injuries on his hand, said most of the passengers had been sleeping when the accident had occurred. “We were dozing off during the ride. We were woken up by a jerk and the bus toppled. Everyone was screaming and shouting; luckily, locals came to our rescue and pulled us out of the bus. The accident took place because of the appaling condition of the road,” he said.
The potholed roads have made people like Ratan Roy keep his two buses — plying between Alipurduar and Siliguri — parked at home. “The condition of the roads is so bad that I have not been operating my two buses for the past six weeks,” said Roy, a resident of Alipurduar.
Roy added that he was having to pay more money for repairs than the monthly loan repayments.
“I was spending something like Rs 70,000 a month for repairs. So, I decided not to ply the buses till the road conditions improved rather than risk them turning into wrecks and becoming non-roadworthy,” he said.
The North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Co-ordination Committee met at Mainaguri yesterday and decided to continue with the strike.
Chandi Sarkar, a bus owner in Jalpaiguri, said another meeting would be held in Cooch Behar on September 11 to deliberate on the strike. About 1,500 buses and mini-buses are off the roads because of the strike.