The horrific accident took place around 2.45 a.m. on National Highway 4 near Haveri town, about 330 km from here.
"The private bus, which was on its way to Mumbai from Bangalore, crashed into the railing at high speed and caught fire as its fuel tank cracked," Haveri Superintendent of Police M. Shashi Kumar told IANS.
The ghastly accident comes after the Oct 30 tragedy in Andhra Pradesh when 45 passengers perished when a private luxury bus going from Bangalore to Hyderabad burst out in flames near Mahabubnagar.
In the Thursday incident, 43 men, six women and a girl child were in the bus, operated by the Bangalore-based Nationals Travels.
The bus left Bangalore late Wednesday after picking up passengers from seven points. It was scheduled to reach Mumbai Thursday afternoon.
"We are yet to identify the victims as their bodies are burnt beyond recognition. An autopsy and DNA test will be conducted to identify the bodies with the help of their relatives," Kumar said.
Six of the 25 injured were admitted in a state-run hospital at Hubli, 50 km from Haveri town, as their condition was critical. The remaining injured were treated in a hospital at Haveri for burns.
A spokesman for the bus operator told IANS one of the two drivers died in the accident. The other driver fled from the accident spot and is absconding.
Driver Mayas Pasha, who died, drove the bus from Bangalore up to a point from where the other driver, Mujaid, took over the wheels from him. The cleaner was injured in the incident, a spokesperson noted.
Most passengers were asleep when the fire broke out suddenly. The survivors escaped by smashing the emergency exit window and jumping out of the burning bus.
Karnataka Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy blamed speeding for the tragedy.
"Over-speeding appears to the cause of the accident. We are ordering a probe to ascertain the reason though the driver could be at fault," Reddy told reporters.
The bus operator announced Rs.5 lakh as compensation each to the victims' kin after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah declared Rs.1 lakh ex-gratia.
Among the passengers were two foreigners, including one from South Africa. Police are scanning the passengers' list to verify the second foreigner's nationality.
Zameer Ahmed Khan, a Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) lawmaker from Bangalore, is one of the partners in the bus travel company.
"The brand new Volvo bus was inducted in October to operate on the Bangalore-Mumbai route with a valid permit, a fitness certificate and a third party insurance cover," Khan told reporters at Haveri.
Ever since the Oct 30 bus fire, the state transport department has intensified checks on all state-run and private buses operating on intra-state and inter-state routes to ensure the safety of the passengers.
Khan blamed Volvo for the deaths, suspecting a technical flaw in the diesel tank.
"It is too much of a coincidence that two luxury buses of Volvo make have gone up in flames in similar circumstances in a fortnight. We want the government to order an inquiry to ascertain the cause of the fire in its buses," Khan said.
Volvo offered to cooperate with the authorities.
"Our technical experts will investigate the incident with the support of our safety experts," Volvo said late Thursday.
--IANS (Posted on 14-11-2013)