Relatives of those killed in a bus accident react after receiving news from police outside the private bus operator's office in Hyderabad on Wednesday. Image Credit: AFP

Hyderabad: At least 44 passengers were burned alive and five others injured when a private bus travelling from Bengaluru to Hyderabad burst into flames after hitting a culvert early on Wednesday.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Naveen Chand said 42 burnt bodies were recovered from the gutted bus and efforts were being made to identify them. While the driver and the cleaner of the bus were in police custody for questioning, five injured passengers were admitted to DRDL Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad which has a special burns ward.

Mehbubnagar district superintendent of police Nagendar Kumar said the accident occurred when the driver of the Volvo bus tried to overtake another vehicle and hit the culvert. “It resulted in the diesel tank of the bus catching fire,” he said.

The accident occurred at Palem village in Kothakota mandal of Mehbubnagar district about 150km south of Hyderabad.

The Volvo bus belonging to Bengaluru based Jabbar Travels had left Bengaluru at around 11pm and was to reach Hyderabad at 6am.

The state government has ordered a probe into the cause of the accident. Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy spoke to the district collector Girija Shankar and other officials and directed them to extend all the necessary help to the victims.

Police strengthened security at the offices of Jabbar Travels in Hyderabad and Bengaluru as a large number of wailing, anxious relatives gathered there to find out the fate of their loved ones. The management of Jabbar Travels have gone missing and police are trying to find them for questioning.

State Transport Minister Botsa Satyanayrana expressing shock over the incident said that speeding by private buses had become a major cause of deadly accidents. He said that controlling the speed of these buses was not in the hands of the government.

“We have been appealing to the people to avoid travelling by these buses and instead use the safer state-owned RTC buses but they still prefer private buses,” he said.

Private travel agency buses, including the high-speed Volvo buses, are the favoured way to make the overnight journey between the two major cities of South India, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Every day hundreds of such buses ply the route.

The newly built express highway (NH 7) has enabled these buses to drive at a speed of more than 120km/h and they cover the 550km between the two cities in less than six hours, against 8 to 9 hours taken by state owned buses, which stop at many places en route. 

This is the second such accident involving private buses in less than one and a half years. Thirty passengers were killed when a bus of Kaleshwari Travels going from Hyderabad to Shiridi plunged into a valley in Osmanabad district in June 2012.

It had forced the state government to launch a drive against the private tour operators but it later petered out. The lucrative private tour and travel business had flourished in the recent years as many political bigwigs were involved in it.