In a gruesome tragedy, 20 people sleeping on the wayside were killed and at least 15 injured when they were run over by a truck on the Dholka-Bagodara Highway in the early hours of Thursday. The police said the driver was absconding, but the owner of the truck, registered in Indore in Madhya Pradesh, was being contacted. It is believed the driver lost control after a rear tyre suddenly burst on hitting a stone on the road.

The deceased, all going to a ‘dargah' near Dholka for the Urs festival, were sleeping by the road side after walking long distances. The truck, laden with powdered lime, jumped off the road and crushed the sleeping pilgrims before stopping.

The police said the accident occurred around 2.30 a.m. near Dholka, about 80 km from here. The pilgrims hailed from various parts of north Gujarat, Rajasthan and M.P. and were proceeding on foot to the Hazrat Saiyed Peer Maehmudshah Bukhari's “Mazar” at Bhadiad village beyond Dholka. The annual Urs festival attracts lakhs of devotees.

By tradition, pilgrims have to walk to the shrine. Many of the victims coming from Modasa, Palanpur, Deesa, and various other parts of north Gujarat as well as Dungarpur in Rajasthan and some parts of M.P., must have trekked over 300 km in the last few days, and were just short of the shrine. While 18 people, including nine women and two children, died on the spot, two passed away later in the hospital. The Gujarat government has announced a compensation of Rs. one lakh each to the kin of all those killed, and Rs. 25,000 assistance to the injured, the State Cabinet spokesman and Health Minister Jaynarayan Vyas said.