Stranded bus passengers reach Kolkata

Update: The 14 Bhutanese passengers and four non-Bhutanese, who had to halt for a night at Raigunj village in West Bengal, India after the Bhutan Post bus they were travelling in rammed into a cowshed on October 7, reached Kolkata around 1pm yesterday.

Two Indian taxis, which the Bhutan Post arranged dropped them to Kolkata. The 42-year old wife of the passenger who died on impact is undergoing treatment in a Siliguri hospital.

Two drivers, a conductor and three passengers were injured when the mishap occurred around 11:30 pm at Raigunj village, about 250 kilometres away from Siliguri. Four cows and a goat were also killed in the accident.

Passengers said they were moved to a hotel nearby Raigunj town after waiting for help in the open for almost 17 hours. Refuting the passenger’s allegations, Bhutan Post officials yesterday said they were in close contact with passengers since the accident was reported until they were dropped to Kolkata.

According to the officials, they were making arrangements as soon as the accident was reported to the Chief Executive Officer at 11.51pm. By 7am the following morning, Bhutan Post officials had informed the relatives of the passengers.

Bhutan Post’s Chief Executive Officer Karma Wangdi said they handled the issue with help from Lhamoizingkha dungkhag administration, Consulate General of Kolkata, Bureau of Law and Order, Phuentsholing dungkhag administration and police.

He said the management’s priority was to first get the body’s post mortem done, reach the injured to a hospital and simultaneously give attention to the other passengers.  “Our people were there to take care of the passengers,” Karma Wangdi said. “We had to priortise our attention based on the situation.”

Bhutan Post officials said the crisis management team, which was formed at 5am on October 8 focused on the 18 passengers, settled the compensation and getting the bus released from the custody of West Bengal police.

“This was of critical importance to avoid the local crowd getting worked up and even turning their anger on other Bhutanese vehicles and the bus service,” Bhutan Post officials said adding that within 24 hours of the accident, the passengers were moved from the hotel to Kolkata.

They said they reached the 18 passengers to a hotel near the hospital at 2pm, 14 hours after the accident.  The passengers were then served meals and refreshments. Bhutan Post bore the expenses for the cremation of the 45 year-old passenger yesterday.

Information and communications secretary, who is also the chairman of Bhutan Post Dasho Kinley Dorji said, “with the help of dungkhag administration, police and their counterparts in India, Bhutan Post responded well,”

One of the passengers however said that he had to repeatedly call the Bhutan Post management to seek help in getting rescued from the accident scene. He said they were moved to the hospital only at 4 pm.

He said that if Bhutan Post’s priority was to deal with the body first, followed by assessing the damage caused by the bus and to take the injured passengers to hospital, the passengers should have been informed to avoid the misunderstanding. “But every time we inquired about the travel arrangement, Bhutan Post officials said they were working on it but it came very late,” he said.

Four of the passengers were patients referred to Kolkata.

Yesterday morning, health secretary Dr Dorji Wangchuk said that the Thimphu referral hospital’s management was activated to respond to the accident and passengers.

Tenzin Namgyel

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