Dozen die, 21 injured as microbus rams into parked truck in BankeAll passengers on the bus were migrant workers returning home from various cities in India after losing their source of income in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
12 individuals, who were returning to Nepal from India amid the coronavirus pandemic lost their lives in an accident in Rapti Sonari Rural Municipality, Banke at around midnight on Sunday. Twenty-one others were injured in the same accident.
While 11 people, including the driver of the microbus and his assistant died on the spot, a passenger died receiving treatment at Nepalgunj-based Bheri Hospital on Monday morning.
In the past two months, Nepal has seen a huge number of migrant workers returning from India, making their way towards their home country for sustaining in India without a source of income is becoming increasingly difficult for them.
Since the time both the countries put the lockdown in place some two months ago, a trickle of returnees slowly turned into a massive influx, some walking long distances from various cities in India to Nepal.
The 12 who had boarded the vehicle in Nepalgunj for Dang on Sunday night were also migrant workers working in cities like Chandigarh and Shimla in India. They had reached Nepalgunj without food or sleep for the last three days.
One among them was Ram Kumar Pun of Dang, a daily wage worker in Chandigarh. He was living through tough days in Chandigarh without work and means to sustain himself. He was worried about contracting coronavirus and wanted to return home, says his older brother Ramesh Pun. He decided to make his way home but did not have enough money to support his journey. He called Ramesh in Dang and informed him about his predicament. “He said he didn’t have money so I had told him I’ll send some for him to be able to reach home. But he refused,” said Ramesh, who had come to receive his brother’s dead body in Nepalgunj-based Bheri hospital on Monday. “After the railway services resumed in India, he got onto one of the trains and somehow made his way to the border. He had borrowed money from his friends in Chandigarh and reached Jamunaha border point on Sunday,” said Ramesh. “He had called me after entering Nepal. He said he would be home soon.”
"The accident took place after the Hiace microbus (BA 5 KHA 5995) rammed into a parked truck (SA 4 KHA 9064) near the Thuriya forest in Ward No. 2 of the rural municipality, along the East-West Highway,” said Kuldip Chand, Deputy Superintendent of Police of the Area Police Office in Kohalpur. “The loaded truck had broken down on the road," he added. The impact of the hit was such that the truck was pushed some 45 metres away from its stationary position.
At the time of the accident, there were 33 people in the vehicle including the driver. Among them, two were the driver’s friends and one assistant, rest were all passengers on their way towards their home districts.
The 21 injured are receiving treatment in Bheri Hospital. Most of the injured recall the vehicle overspeeding on its way to Dang. “We were feeling dizzy inside the vehicle due to overspeeding. We told the driver to slow down but he did not listen to us,” said Bishnu Giri, a local of Tulsipur in Dang, and one of the survivors of the accident.
Another injured, Meghraj KC from Dang, says the driver was inebriated. “We were soon to leave Nepalgunj but the driver got off the vehicle and said he would first have his meal. When he came back he was drunk,” said KC. “We were scared because he started overspeeding as soon as he got behind the wheel. We asked him to drive slow but he did not listen.”
Mukesh Gharti, a local of Salyan, who was working as a daily wage worker in Shimla, India, was one among the survivors. He also decided to return to Nepal when his employer stopped paying him his salary because of the lockdown. He was fast running out of money because he hadn’t been paid for the past two months, he says. With the possible scenario of running out of food and being infected with coronavirus, he concluded that leaving for home was the next best thing for him to do.
“We were a group of nine workers in Shimla; we decided to leave for Nepal when it became increasingly difficult for us to survive there. We booked a vehicle paying IRs 3,600 per person and reached the Jamunaha border point from Shimla. We have no money left now. We used all our savings to reach the border,” said Gharti. “We haven’t had a proper meal in the past three days. We had only water to drink until we reached Jamunaha.”
Gharti and his friends had boarded a vehicle from Shimla that dropped them off at Rupaidiha, the Indian side of the border. He was with Nepali workers from Salyan, Dang, Rolpa and other districts. “We reached Rupaidiha but the Indian security personnel did not let us stay there for long. We were asked to leave the area as soon as we got out of the vehicle,” said Gharti. “They stared baton charging at us and some even sustained injuries. A group of 29 including Gharti soon boarded a tipper truck sent by Nepalgunj Sub-metropolis. They reached Jamunaha at around 6pm on Sunday.
The tipper truck dropped the locals of Banke to their settlements whereas the people of other districts were left stranded at Jamunaha.
Since only a few hours were left for nightfall and with no place to take shelter for the night, the group of 29 decided to look for vehicles leaving for Dang. They met a driver of a Hiace microbus willing to take them to Dang although at a much higher price than the normal fare. The driver charged Rs 1,800 per person for the trip whereas the actual fare is around Rs 400. “We were 29 of us and only 17 had the money to pay for the fare. The rest of us said we would pay once we reach home. The microbus was a 16-seater but the driver said he would take all 29 of us,” said Gharti. “There were no security checks anywhere.”
Another survivor, Sunil Pariyar from Rolpa, had also made his way to Jamunaha border point from Chandigarh. “When we reached Jamunaha, the police brought us to the passenger unit at Nepalgunj customs point. Then we searched for a vehicle and came across a Hiace microbus. We paid more than double the fare to the driver to take us to Dang,” he said.
According to Pariyar, the driver dilly-dallied in Nepalgunj and left for Dang only around 11pm. “We were waiting since six in the evening; we were thirsty, hungry and sleepy. The vehicle picked up speed as soon as we started moving. Most of us were half-asleep by then while some were holding on to their seats. Many of my friends asked the driver to slow down. But the driver insisted that he had to reach Dang as soon as possible and return to Nepalgunj,” he said.
The next thing Pariyar remembers is falling off the seat when the microbus rammed into the stationary truck. “Most of the passengers were unconscious. Some of them had died on impact. Three of us sustained minor injuries. When I looked around I could see blood splattered everywhere. No one came to our rescue immediately and I didn’t know how to get in touch with the police. I don’t know who informed the police, but soon the police arrived and brought us to the hospital.”
This story has been updated.