Sixteen Amarnath pilgrims were killed and around 31 were injured, when a bus skidded off the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and rolled into a deep nullah in the Ramban district of Jammu and Kashmir today, officials said. The deceased included two women and belonged to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Assam, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh, they said. Sixteen of the injured persons were critical, the officials added. A J&K State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) bus carrying pilgrims skidded off the road, turned turtle and rolled down into the nullah at Nachlana belt of Ramban late this afternoon, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Ramban, Mohan Lal said. The bus was part of a convoy carrying 3,603 pilgrims from Jammu to the twin base-camps of Baltal and Pahalgam for the pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed pain at the loss of lives and announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of those killed and Rs 50,000 for the seriously injured. According to police officials, 16 persons were killed and around 31 were injured in the accident.
Out of them 21 were airlifted in a chopper to Jammu for specialised treatment and 10 were shifted to a Srinagar hospital. Police, Army and CRPF, with help from locals, launched rescue operation and brought out the dead and injured from the nullah, they said. The JKSRTC ordered an in-house inquiry into the road accident. "An in-house inquiry committee has been constituted to look into the circumstances that led to this tragic accident involving an SRTC bus carrying the Amarnath yatris," its Managing Director Mir Afroz Ahmad said. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed condolences at the loss of lives. Home Minister Singh spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Governor N N Vohra and Chief Minister Mufti and took stock of the situation, officials said. This is the second major tragedy to affect the Amarnath yatris this year. Earlier, on July 10, militants attacked a bus carrying pilgrims in which eight persons lost their lives. A woman devotee, who was injured in the attack, succumbed at a hospital early today. Lalita, 47, succumbed to injuries at the SKIMS Hospital at Srinagar, a police official said.