Eighteen persons died and 54 others of a marriage party sustained injuries when their bus skidded off the road and plunged into a deep gorge in Ramnagar area of Udhampur district in Jammu on Saturday night.

Inspector Police of Jammu, Dilbagh Singh, told The Hindu that a bus carrying a marriage party plunged into a ravine in Dudu Basantgarh area, about 150 km from Jammu, late on Saturday evening. The bus, which had permissible seating capacity of 42 passengers, was carrying as many as 72 people on it.

In all 18 persons, including two brothers of the bridegroom, had died till this evening. The IGP said that 11 of them died on spot and others subsequently succumbed to injuries either en route to hospital or under treatment at two hospitals in Udhampur and Jammu. He said that men from the nearest battalion headquarters of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) rushed to the spot immediately after learning about the accident last night and evacuated all the injured.

While as 50 of the injured were admitted to the District Hospital at Udhampur, two more were under treatment at Government Medical College (GMC) Hospital, Jammu, IGP said. Deputy Commissioner and Senior Superintendent of Police, he said, were on the spot along with the rescue teams.

As the medical facilities in Dudu and Latti areas were inadequate, all the injured had to be shifted to District Hospital Udhampur, in ambulances and police and private vehicles. The area being in a hilly terrain off Chinani point of Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, many of the injured reached the hospital late after midnight.

Some of those killed in the tragedy have been identified as Purshotam Singh and Joginder Singh, real brothers of bridegroom Rakesh Singh, besides Karnail Singh, son of Nasib Singh, Mohd Shafiq son of Mohd Din, Kuldeep Singh son of Kirpal Singh, and Balbir Singh son of Bodh Raj, all residents of Basantgarh.

Governor, N N Vohra, and Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, have said that they were shocked over the huge loss of life. Chief Minister has directed the authorities to provide best possible treatment to the injured, even if anybody would have to be flown to PGI Chandigarh or New Delhi for specialized treatment.

Today’s accident, according to authoritative sources, is the umpteenth of such tragedies in Udhampur-Doda belt of Jammu region where more than 200 commuters are estimated to have died in identical road accidents. Officials said that, like many of such incidents in the past, the ill-fated bus was 15 years old. It was being inquired whether the driver had a valid driving license or not.

The issue of release of over 50,000 fake driving licences in less than two years by Regional Transport Officers of Udhampur and Doda few years back has been raked up my media. However, influential officials and politicians have been proactively shielding the accused allegedly for a larger nexus.

A House Committee of J&K Legislature, which was set up in the wake of intense public criticism of the alleged nexus, has failed to stop driving of condemned vehicles by drivers, carrying fake licences, in the hilly terrain that has grown quite infamous for road accidents in the last four years.