Zee Media Bureau
Hyderabad: In a tragic incident, at least forty-five passengers, including a baby girl, were charred to death and seven others suffered serious burns when a private luxury bus burst into flames near Palem village in Andhra Pradesh in the wee hours of Wednesday.
According to reports, the private bus, proceeding to Hyderabad from Bangalore, caught fire after hitting a culvert around 5.20 am near Palem in Kottakota mandal, about 150 km from here.
Besides the driver and cleaner, only five passengers escaped the horrific disaster. The injured passengers were shifted to a hospital. The driver and cleaner, who escaped unhurt, are being questioned by police.
Flames engulfed the bus in no time as the diesel tanker burst after hitting the culvert, Mahabubnagar Superintendent of Police Nagendra Kumar said quoting witnesses.
Initially, there was confusion on the number of passengers in the bus. It came to be known later that fifty-two persons, including 50 passengers, were travelling in the Volvo bus when the tragedy struck.
However, State Transport Minister Botsa Satyanarayana later told reporters in Hyderabad that 45 people were killed.
"Charred bodies of 45 persons have been retrieved from the bus," Deputy Inspector General (Hyderabad Range) V Naveen Chand also confirmed later.
According to police, the bodies were charred beyond recognition. Four of the deceased were identified, they said, even as grieving relatives scoured bodies to find their dead.
Priyanka, daughter of a Judge of a special court handling cases under SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, also died in the incident, they said.
Five passengers, driver Feroze Pasha and cleaner Ayyaz, managed to escape with burn injuries and were undergoing treatment at different hospitals, another police officer said.
Mahbubnagar District Collector Girija Shankar and District SP D Nagendra Kumar, who were supervising the rescue operation said, "The identification of the deceased will be determined after conducting DNA tests and collecting blood samples of the relatives.
"The mortal remains will be handed over to the kin of the deceased after the DNA tests," the Collector said.
Initial reports had said that some software engineers were among the victims in the bus that had started from Bangalore at 11 PM last night.
The bus belonging to Jabbar Travels of Bangalore was bearing an Andhra Pradesh number plate.
When contacted CH Pratap, Deputy Transport Commissioner (Anantapur district) said that the bus was registered in the name of Diwakar Road Lines in October 2010.
Subsequently, based on the request of the owners the department issued a No Objection Certificate to RTO Bangalore- II (West).
"The bus has All India Permit. We (Andhra Pradesh Government) received road tax up to December 31, 2013," Pratap said.
According to RTA officials in Hyderabad, the bus which has sitting capacity of 43+2 has been leased with Jabbar Travels of Bangalore.
The officials said the fitness certificate of the bus (issued by Karnataka RTA)is valid till October 6, 2014 while the permit validity is till November 2, 2016.
A team of doctors from Gandhi Hospital and Osmania General Hospital and forensic experts from Hyderabad rushed to the spot and had began post-mortem examinations.
The SP said the identification of the deceased will take two to three days as the DNA test result has to match with that of blood samples collected from the relatives.
"It seems the bus was travelling at a high speed when its fuel tank hit the roadside culvert and caught fire and burst. The passengers in the bus were burnt beyond recognition. The entire bus has been gutted," Wanaparthy DSP Srinivas Reddy said.
Police said they had collected the list of passengers from the private bus operator and found that the online booking list had names of 33 bus-passengers and other travellers boarded the bus later.
"According to preliminary investigation, some more passengers boarded the bus enroute at Hindupur and Anantapur. We have to examine the bus-driver for more information as he is responsible for the driving. A case under relevant sections of Motor Vehicle Act and IPC were booked in connection with the incident against the private travel operator," the police officer said.
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president N Chandrababu Naidu and leaders of other political parties have also expressed shock over the accident and conveyed their sympathies to the kin of the victims.