24 pilgrims killed in Punjab road accident (Lead)

March 31st, 2009 - 11:57 am ICT by IANS  

Anandpur Sahib (Punjab), March 31 (IANS) At least 24 pilgrims were killed and about 75 injured when a truck carrying them from the Hindu shrine of Naina Devi in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh overturned near this Punjab town early Tuesday, police said.
“All the injured were immediately rushed to the government hospital here for treatment. Out of them, 10 are in serious condition and doctors are treating them,” Surinder Pal, officer in charge of the Anandpur Sahib police stations, told IANS.

“Ten of the injured, who were in serious condition, were sent to PGIMER (Post-graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research) at Chandigarh. We have got the report that three of them have died there but their identification could not be done so far,” said Pal.

Anandpur Sahib is in Ropar district, around 100 km from Chandigarh.

“Relatives of the victims and deceased have started coming in huge numbers to identify their kith and kin. A case has been registered against Bitta, who was driving the truck,” said Pal.

The truck, with nearly 105 pilgrims, including women and children, was returning after the group prayed at the Naina Devi shrine Monday night, part of the ongoing Navratra festival.

The pilgrims were from two villages near Machhiwara town in Ludhiana district.

According to the police, the truck driver had turned the truck into a double-decker by fitting wooden slats so that he could squeeze in more passengers. The practice is prohibited.

However, double-decker trucks carrying scores of passengers is a common sight in Punjab, especially during religious festivals.

“Fifteen members of my family were travelling in the truck. I lost my two brothers in the accident. The driver was heavily drunk and he was driving the vehicle at a very high speed. It all happened very quickly and the driver could not control the vehicle on a steep curve,” Ravi Kumar, one of the injured, told IANS.

A wailing relative of 22-year-old Lakhwinder Singh, who died in the accident, said: “He had seven sisters and was the only hope for our family. This tragedy has ruined us.”

On Aug 3, 2008, at least 145 people were killed and 40 injured in a stampede at Naina Devi temple, about 30 km from here, when throngs of devotees panicked after a rumour that boulders were rolling down the popular hilltop shrine.

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