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Tragedy revisits Naina Devi pilgrims
24 killed as truck carrying devotees hits tree
Megha Mann
Tribune News Service

Magisterial probe ordered

The Deputy Commissioner ordered a magisterial inquiry into the accident. The SDM, Anandpur Sahib, has been directed to submit the inquiry report within seven days.

The information about the deceased and the injured can be taken from the following phone numbers of SDM’s office: 01887-232036 and 01887-232676. Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and the Punjab Governor and UT Administrator, Gen SF Rodrigues (retd), have expressed grief over the loss of lives in the accident.

Anandpur Sahib, March 31
In less than eight months’ time yet another tragedy struck pilgrims to the Naina Devi shrine last night killing 24 persons and injuring 73.

Around 100 devotees from Jeevanpura and Ghuman in the Machhiwara area of Ludhiana were returning by a truck after paying obeisance at the shrine on occasion of Navratras.

When the truck (PB 10 Q 9837) reached near Rampur Jajjar village on the Punjab-Himachal Pradesh border, its driver lost control over the vehicle while negotiation a sharp turn and rammed into a tree. The truck overturned and the devotees sitting on the top got crushed.

A wooden slab had been fitted in the vehicle to accommodate more devotees. This is an illegal practice usually adopted by truckers while ferrying pilgrims to various religious places.

The devotees had left Machhiwara, near Ludhiana, in two batches. The other batch was moving ahead in another truck. The driver of this truck informed the police about the accident.

Shiv Kumar, one of the survivors, told The Tribune that three persons were driving the truck one by one. “Since it was a long journey, it was decided that three persons will take the wheel one after another. The driver of the vehicle was assisted by two passengers,” he said.

The driver of the truck, Bittu, a resident of Miani village in the Machhiwara area, was driving the vehicle when it collided with the tree.

Other survivors alleged that the driver was under the influence of liquor, hence could not steer the vehicle smoothly on the sharp curve.

Twentyone devotees died on the spot while three died at the PGI, Chandigarh. The condition of 20 injured devotees is stated to be serious. Eleven of them have been admitted at the Anandpur Sahib Civil Hospital while nine to the PGI. Among the deceased are 14 men, six women and three children. Those referred to PGI include 26 men, 36 women, 13 children.

SSP Laxmi Kant Yadav said the driver could neither be found among the deceased nor the injured. “It seems that the driver managed to flee from the spot. We have traced truck’s owner, who is from Ludhiana,” Yadav added. The police has registered a case of negligent driving.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Laxmi Kanta Chawla visited the Anandpur Sahib Civil Hospital and inquired after the injured. She said the government would provide treatment to all the injured free of cost.

Deputy Commissioner, Ropar, Priyank Bharti, on behalf of the state government, announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh each for the next of kin of the deceased besides Rs 50,000 and Rs 25,000 for seriously injured and persons with minor injuries, respectively.

Last year on August 3 on the second Navratra, 145 persons had been killed and 40 injured in a stampede at the shrine. The rumour of boulders tumbling down had kicked off the stampede.

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‘We owe our lives to Punjab police’
Megha Mann
Tribune News Service

Anandpur Sahib, March 31
“We owe our lives to the Punjab police. Had the cops not reached the spot, I would have died while buried under that huge truck,” remembered Gurjit Singh, one of the survivors of the accident.

Gurjit was among around 67 passengers who were rescued by the police. SHO of Anandpur Sahib Surinderpal Singh Lidhar and his team got the information within 10 minutes of the accident. “Devotees travelling in another truck called up the police control room and parties were dispatched immediately,” said a police official.

“One of the cops removed his turban and fastened it with my arm to stop bleeding,” recalled Amrit Singh at the Civil Hospital. Others even carried injured on their shoulders to ambulances.

Apart from the SHO, the police team included ASHO Amrik Singh, ASI Roshan Lal, head constable Roshan Lal, ASI Gurcharan Singh, ASI Balwinder Singh, constable Balvir Singh, Home Guards jawans Rashpal Singh and Shamsher Singh.

A crane was pressed into service to bring the truck back in its original position. Sarpanch of Ghumana village, which lost maximum villagers in the accident, Kashmira Singh said: “The police called me at around 1 am that the vehicle has met with an accident and by 2:45 am we were at the spot. Till 6 am, the police personnel remained with us helping in every possible manner”.

SSP LK Yadav said they had experience of dealing with such tragedies after the Naina Devi stampede in August last year. The tragedy had taught them to react in such conditions and respond to need of the victims at the earliest, he said.

Yadav said the policemen had gone beyond their duty and all of them would be honoured.

Volunteers of Qila Anandgarh, under philanthropic Baba Labh Singh, too, left no stone unturned to help the people in distress. Apart from lending help in person, the volunteers also distributed blankets, food packets and water among the injured.

Vehicles of Qila Anandgarh ferried bodies from the Civil Hospital to the houses of the deceased in the Ludhiana, Machhiwara and Nawanshahr areas.

The list of deceased

Manju Kumari (1), Baba Hari Singh (60), Bhullar Devi (80), Lakhvir Singh (22), and Gurjit Singh (20), all from Ghumana village, Machhiwara; Gurdeep Singh (19) and Malkit Ram (50) of Mahlon village, Nawanshahr; Chhinderpal (40) of Rahimabad village, Ludhiana; Manga (15) of Bhama village, Koom Kalan; Babloo (22), Dabloo (15), Panvati (80) of Mand Udewal village, Ludhiana; Suresh Sahni and Panvati of Mahal Ghumana village, Ludhiana; Surinder Singh (18) of Shatabgarh village, Ludhiana; and Anita (15) of Jeonpura village, Ludhiana; Bijal Sahni and Mayawati of Ghumana village, Ludhiana.
Five bodies couldn’t be identified.

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