| The wreckage of one of the vehicles involved in the accident in Barpeta on Thursday. (PTI) |
Barpeta, Oct. 4: They began their journey early to beat a non-existent strike but had to embrace death instead. Thirty-two persons, including 12 children, were killed in an accident at Dahalapara in Barpeta district on National Highway 31 around 4.30 this morning.
Another 16 were injured in the mishap, according to state home department sources.
Of the injured, 10 were referred to Gauhati Medical College and Hospital and six to Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Medical College and Hospital here. The dead comprised 11 men, eight women, eight boys and five girls.
Police said around 50 persons, including children and women, were travelling in two Cruisers from Tamarhat in Dhubri district when a loaded truck coming from Barpeta Road and bearing a West Bengal registration number, suddenly rammed into the vehicles one after another.
“At least three families were wiped out. At midnight, nearly 35 men and women from Tamarhat, along with their children, boarded the Cruisers to avoid the 36-hour Assam strike, called by the Biswajit Ray faction of All-Koch Rajbongshi Students’ Union, which was supposed to be enforced from 5am. The truck hit the first Cruiser and collided with the second one at full speed,” a passenger of the second vehicle, Abu Bakkar Siddique, a resident of Harip-ur under Tamarhat police station, told The Telegraph.
Ironically, the victims were unaware that the general strike had been called off last night. The strike, if enforced, would have affected Bongaigaon, Barpeta and Dhubri districts.
The victims, brick kiln workers and their families, were on their way to Rangia in Kamrup district from Tamarhat, a distance of 241km. The site of the mishap is 150km from Guwahati and 5km from Sarbhog police station in Barpeta district.
Nasiruddin Ahmed, a resident of Tamarhat who reached Barpeta to identify the victims, said these workers go to Rangia every year to work as contractual labourers in brick kilns. They get Rs 300 for every thousand bricks.
An eyewitness, Satyaban Das of Dahalapara, was out for his morning walk, when he heard a deafening sound. “I ran to the spot with my son and nephew, and saw what nobody should see again. It was a heart-rending scene. My nephew called the police,” he added.
Sorbhog officer in-charge S.K. Das said 26 passengers had died by the time the police team reached the spot.
Salema Khatun, 15, who lost her elder sister Elima and a number of relatives, said most of the people were sleeping when the accident happened. She is undergoing treatment at Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Medical College here.
Two-year-old Ijabul was seen crying on his hospital bed, asking for his amma (mother). Dr Bhawani Chakraborty, the principal of the medical college, said a few critically injured were referred to the GMCH.
Deputy commissioner S. Singh said the district administration has rendered all possible help to the families of the deceased. The police have arrested the injured truck driver, Binod Roy, from Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Medical College and Hospital.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who met the injured in hospital, has directed the authorities to enforce the speed limit to prevent rash driving, overloading of passengers and goods and proper verification of driving licences to avert such mishaps.
Gogoi also announced ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased and suitable assistance to those who sustained grievous and minor injuries. The ex gratia for accidental deaths has been enhanced from the existing Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Of the 10 victims of the accident who arrived at GMCH, one child was brought dead. Four of the patients, including a child, are in a critical condition. The condition of the other five patients is stable, said GMCH superintendent Ramen Talukdar.