The horrific accident took place near Haveri town, about 330 km from here in northern Karnataka. It comes close on the heels of the Oct 30 Andhra Pradesh accident when 45 passengers perished in a similar private-run luxury bus fire at Mahbubnagar.
Thursday's accident "took place around 2.45 a.m. when the luxury bus of Volvo from Bangalore to Mumbai hit the railing of a bridge on National Highway 4 (NH 4) at high speed and caught fire as its fuel tank burst," Haveri Superintendent of Police M. Shashi Kumar told IANS.
As many as 43 men and six women were onboard the ill-fated bus operated by the city-based Nationals Travels.
The bus left for Mumbai late Wednesday from the city centre and crossed a hamlet Kunimallahalli, 15 km from Haveri, when it caught fire.
"We are yet to identify the...victims as their bodies are fully burnt. Six of the injured have been rushed to a state-run hospital at Hubli, as their condition is critical due to severe burns," Kumar said. Hubli is around 50 km from Haveri.
"The bus driver is absconding while its cleaner is injured and is in a hospital at Haveri," Kumar added.
Most of the passengers were asleep when the fire broke out and the flames started leaping up from beneath.
The survivors managed to escape by shattering the emergency exit window and jumping from the burning bus.
State Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy rushed to the spot.
"Overspeeding appears to be the cause of the accident... We are ordering a probe to ascertain the reason though the driver could be at fault for driving so recklessly," Reddy told reporters.