Suresh sits on the front porch of his home, helpless and grief-stricken. Wednesday was supposed to be a happy day for him and his wife Yendrikayala Sumalatha, parents of two children. 26-year-old Sumalatha was pregnant and this time, the couple was expecting twins.
Her delivery was scheduled for Wednesday and Sumalatha, along with her mother, Bhoolacchavva, and her mother-in-law, Yenkavva, boarded a bus to Kondagattu. From there, the three were to catch another bus to Karimnagar where Sumalatha was to get admitted to a hospital, a day before her delivery.
However, they never reached the hospital. The ill-fated bus they were travelling in met with a gruesome accident. The three women were all grievously injured and were rushed to hospital, but succumbed to their injuries.
“We were all happy about the twins, but we didn’t expect this,” says Lakshman, Sumalatha’s brother-in-law, in despair.
“Who would have thought that such an incident would happen, whom can we blame for it?” adds another relative.
Suresh, Sumalatha's husband
Telangana witnessed one of India’s worst bus accidents on Tuesday – the bus fell off the Kondagattu Ghat Road while returning from the Anjaneya Swamy temple atop Kondagattu Hills, 190 km from the state capital, Hyderabad. 23 people died on the spot and as of Wednesday, the death toll mounted to 60.
A pall of gloom has settled over the village of Shanivarampet, a small village with around 100 families. Locals say 20 people from the village boarded the bus – 13 of them have died and 7 others are availing treatment in Karimnagar and Hyderabad.
Following the tragedy, political leaders from across party lines have reached the village. On Wednesday, TRS MP B Vinod Kumar, veteran Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP V Hanumantha Rao and TDP leaders visited the village.
A preliminary probe has pointed to a variety of reasons for the accident. The bus was overloaded with almost 90 passengers on board. The vehicle was travelling on a Ghat road which was not very safe, with a very high gradient.
Locals reveal that there aren’t many alternative modes of transport for them to travel out of the village.
“Except for the RTC bus, no other vehicle comes here. Not even autos,” says Tirupati, a degree student from the village.
He says that the government-run Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) had been running one bus service which makes four trips a day.
“We all rely on the bus. There is no other means of transportation. For the past 20 years, the RTC has not increased the frequency of bus services despite the population swelling.”
Tirupati's friend adds that college students from the six neighbouring villages use the RTC services and so the bus is almost always full. “The students would hang on the footboard of the bus and travel to colleges,” he says.
Tirupati blames the RTC for the accident. He says that the death toll would have been less if they had provided one more bus for the village. The villagers reportedly protested several times to add one more bus service and thereby increase the frequency of buses plying.
“The village youngsters, along with Sarpanch, protested and gave a letter to the Depot Manager. However, they didn’t pay any heed to our appeal,” laments Tirupati. The justification by the RTC to not increase the service was that the bus to and from the village did not have enough patronage.