The state bus (left) and the chartered school bus after the accident near Howrah bridge on Thursday afternoon. Picture by Subham Jyoti
April 20: A state bus with suspected brake failure today mowed down an unidentified pedestrian in Howrah before ramming head-on into a stationary school bus to trigger a six-vehicle pile-up at a busy crossing.
Around 20 students from La Martiniere, Birla High, Sushila Birla Girls' School and MC Kejriwal Vidyapeeth either escaped unhurt or with small cuts and bruises. The man who died apparently did not stand a chance after failing to get out of the way of the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation bus once its driver lost control of the vehicle.
The chartered school bus had been waiting at a traffic signal barely 500 metres from Howrah bridge when the state bus came hurtling towards it from the opposite side. The school bus was pushed back around 20 metres on impact, causing the pile-up involving a private car, a taxi, a motorbike and an autorickshaw.
What probably prevented more damage was that all these vehicles were stationary at the time of the collision.
"We could make out that the driver of the state bus was not in control. Many pedestrians saved themselves by jumping out of the way. The children inside the stationary school bus were screaming. There was chaos and panic," recounted Arpita Bera, a resident of Mullick Fatak who witnessed the accident from her car.
The sequence of events had started around 2.20pm with the state bus knocking down the middle-aged man, who could be a pavement-dweller, after partially mounting the pavement.
The unidentified man had broken ribs and head and spinal cord injuries. He died at Howrah District Hospital, said a civic police volunteer who had taken him there.
The passengers inside the state bus were unharmed. The windshield of the chartered school bus was shattered while the rear of the private car was mangled.
"I was in the backseat of the (chartered) bus with my friend when I heard a loud sound, followed by glass being shattered," recounted Priyank Dhandhania, a Class VII student at La Martiniere for Boys.
Priyank, who lives in Salkia, hit his face against the seat in front and bruised his chin. His friend Bhavya Chowdhary fell on the floor. He has a swollen left eye.
"I was flung off my seat. For a moment, I could not fathom what had happened," Bhavya said.
Ramveer Shaw, his sister-in-law Pramila and 10-year-old niece Anjali were in the taxi that was hit by the chartered school bus. They were going to Burrabazar, in the heart of the city's business district.
"Everything happened in a flash. The pile-up happened like in a movie," said Ramveer, a resident of Nandibagan.
His niece had a head injury, for which she was taken to Howrah District Hoapital and then shifted to a private hospital. She was discharged later in the day.
The four-point crossing where the incident occurred gets heavy traffic all day since it is the meeting point of GR Road, HIT Bridge and Rishi Bankim Bridge.
The pile-up disrupted traffic for close to 45 minutes. Commuters stranded in buses, autorickshaws and taxis suffered the most on a sultry day as they waited for the police to restore traffic flow.
The driver of the state bus has been detained. He will be booked under section 304 (death by negligence) and 279 (rash driving) of the Indian Penal Code, said an officer at Golabari police station.
The officer could not say who would be held responsible if brake failure was confirmed to be the cause of the accident.
Ramshackle state and private buses are a common sight on Calcutta roads and the lack of adherence to basic safety norms seems to bother few people until a tragedy occurs.