The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wedding song turns into dirge

Sarupeta/Guwahati, April 20: A wedding in Assam ended in calamity last night when the bus carrying the groom and his entourage plunged into a roadside pond barely 4 km from the bride’s house, killing 51 of the revellers.

Police said the incident occurred around 11.45 pm near Sarupeta in Barpeta district. The groom, Khitish Kalita, was among the few survivors, but he lost nine of his nephews, four sisters and a brother in the accident. Most of the other casualties were either relatives of the groom or residents of the same village, Raha.

The bus had left the groom’s village, also in Barpeta district, around 10.30 pm with an estimated 78 people on board.

It was raining heavily as the vehicle neared Gomura Gaon, where the bride’s family was already in the throes of celebration.

The left tyres apparently slipped on the muddy road between Chaparbari and Bhalaguri and the bus careened off the road, heading straight into the pond.

Most of the passengers did not stand a chance of escaping the watery grave.

Khitish, who was sitting in front, broke open one of the windows and escaped along with his mother.

“We didn’t realise what was happening until the last moment. I still can’t believe this,” Kalita, 35, said from his bed at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital.

The victims included 19 men, 24 women and eight children. The bus driver survived but is reportedly absconding.

Barpeta superintendent of police Debraj Upadhaya pegged the number of survivors at 27. He said all 51 bodies had been retrieved from the pond.

“Search operations were launched last night itself with the help of army and CRPF personnel. It gathered momentum after the arrival of a crane from Bongaigaon district around 5 am. We are pumping out water to see if there are any more bodies. The entire operation will be completed by tomorrow afternoon. We are also trying to trace the driver. We have his address,” Upadhaya said this evening.

The accident occurred near a bihutoli where national award-winning singer Tarali Sharma was performing. The function ended abruptly after some of the survivors rushed to the venue, crying for help. Almost everybody present at the function, including the singer, left for the site immediately.

“By the time we reached the spot along with residents of Sarupeta and nearby villages, nine persons had been rescued and three bodies retrieved from the pond. The face of one of the girl victims is still haunting me. It was a terrible sight,” Sharma, who returned to Guwahati this morning, said.

The singer said the government must repair rural roads to prevent more such accidents. “As a citizen, I appeal to the government to repair the roads passing through small towns and villages. They are all in a deplorable condition. Well-equipped hospitals are also required to tackle such crises.”

Siddim Haque, a 30-year-old businessman who lives near the accident site, said he was shaken out of his sleep by a loud thud and cries of help. He and his neighbours Rashidul Haque and Nimai Sarkar were among the first to reach the site and start rescuing the survivors.

The Barpeta district administration announced ex-gratia of Rs 10,000 to the families of the victims and Rs 50,000 each from the Chief Minister’s Jiban Jyoti insurance scheme.

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