At least 40 people have been killed after a bus plunged into a canal in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Some 60 people were on board when the packed bus veered off a bridge and fell into the canal on Tuesday in Sidhi district.
Officials say that seven passengers, including the driver, managed to swim to the shore. Rescue teams are looking for the remaining passengers.
The state government has ordered an inquiry into the accident.
Eyewitnesses say that the driver lost control and the bus hit the boundary of the bridge before falling into the Sharda canal.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said that two ministers were heading to the site of the accident to monitor rescue efforts.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tweeted, expressing his condolences for the families of the victims.
He also announced compensation for the victims’ families as well as those who have been injured in the accident. The bus was on its way from Sidhi to Satna district.
Buses are a common mode of transport between smaller towns and districts in India. But operators often flout safety rules and pack them beyond their capacity.
Some 150,000 people are killed on India’s roads every year – the highest in the world – mainly due to over-speeding and rash driving. More than 350,000 people are disabled annually in these accidents.
Men and women, aged between 18 and 45 years, make up 70% of the fatalities, according to federal transport minister Nitin Gadkari.
“For the government, each life is precious, whether poor or rich, urban or rural, male or female. The situation is alarming… there are more deaths [in road accidents] than in Covid… It is more dangerous than Covid,” Mr Gadkari said at the weekend.
He said the government was carrying out a “safety audit” of 40,000km (24,854 miles) of highways to find out whether there were any design deficiencies which were contributing to the accidents.
As high as 44% of households in rural areas reported at least one death after a road crash compared to 11.6% of households in urban areas, according to a new World Bank report.
The report, done in collaboration with SaveLIFE Foundation, a non-profit working on road safety, said more than 75% of poor households in India reported a decline in their income as a result of a road traffic crash.
The financial loss for the poor amounted to more than seven months’ household income, while it was equivalent to less than one month’s household income for rich households, the report said.