(Rpts Y DR 109 for all needing)
Dharamshala, June 21 (UNI) A tourist bus, carrying pilgrims from Delhi, veered off the road and plunged into a gorge in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh late last night, killing 12 and injuring 26, State Transport Minister G S Bali said.
The bus, with about 38 aboard, was carrying pilgrims from Delhi to the state when the accident occurred at about 1135 hrs at Charan Khad, in a second major accident at the same spot on this day in two years, he told UNI.
Mr Bali said there was no immediate word on what caused the accident, while rejecting the driver's version that it was due to the locking of the steering of the vehicle.
At least 12 people were killed on the spot and 26 injured, six of them seriously. The injured have been referred to PGI in Chandigarh in three different ambulances from here.
The minister said senior district administration officials, including Kangra DC Bharat Khera, along with a medical team, rushed to the accident site immediately to supervise relief and rescue operations, which were being hampered due to darkness.
The injured have been admitted to the Dr Rajender Prasad Medical College and Hospital here where the doctors described the condition of several of them stable while discharging six after first aid.
Mr Bali said majority of the passengers were from Patel Nagar area of Delhi and were on a pilgrimage to temples of the state.
The Himachal Pradesh Government would provide free medical treatment to the injured who have been admitted here and at PGI Chandigarh besides making arrangements to ferry the dead bodies of the pilgrims to their native places, he said.
He announced an immediate relief of Rs 25,000 each to the next of the kin of the dead in the accident.
The state government has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the cause of the accident along with an inquiry by the Transport Divisional Manager who has been asked to submit a report within a month, Mr Bali said.
The bus driver, who survived the accident, said the accident occurred due to the locking of the steering, which was rejected by Mr Bali who said only an inquiry would bring the truth out.
The tour operated by Pritpal Transport Company, based at Delhi, described the driver ''very reliable and experienced''.
Nineteen Gujarati tourists were killed and 20 injured after the bus, they were travelling in, plunged into a gorge on June 21, 2005, when the driver failed to negotiate a sharp curve.
Official sources said the minister first rushed to the accident site immediately after hearing about the accident to supervise relief and rescue operations and later visited the injured at the hospital besides making arrangements for ferrying the injured to PGI in Chandigarh.