The bodies of five Hyderabad-based engineering students, who were washed away in the turbulent waters of the Beas River along with 19 classmates and a tour operator on Monday, were flown back to Hyderabad on Tuesday morning even as reports came in that a sixth body had been recovered. The search for the 20 missing people is still underway.
The bodies of the victims which were flown back to Hyderabad by special plane have reached.
The bodies were found on Monday as Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh ordered a magisterial inquiry and suspended two senior engineers and a fitter of Larji Hydropower Project for alleged negligence. Search continued for the 19 students and tour operator Prahlad, who were engaged in a photo session on the bank of Beas, when they were washed away due to sudden discharge of water in the river from the reservoir of 126 MW Larji project.
The 70-member rescue teams comprising two battalions of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), assisted by police, home guard and local divers and rafters were engaged in rescue operations since morning and one body was recovered from the spot near Thalot while four bodies were fished out from Pandoh dam. "The high volume of water and shortage of boats is causing some problem but we have list of missing persons and hope to recover the bodies. Our jawans are moving in boats and strict vigil is being maintained along the banks of Beas by National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams. Twelve divers are also assisting in rescue operations," SSB officials said.
A control room has been set up at Mandi and a helpline has also been provided to assist the relatives of victims. Taking a serious view of the incident, Virbhadra Singh ordered a magisterial enquiry by Divisional Commissioner, Mandi to fix responsibility for the tragedy and suggest measure to stop recurrence of such incidents.
Resident Engineer at the project Manjeet, Executive Engineer NS Dhatwalia and fitter Harbans have been placed under suspension for alleged negligence. The chief minister said the project authorities sounded the alarm (hooter) but the students did not pay heed. However, one of the survivors said no alarm was sounded and there was no board cautioning the people against going to the bank and even the local people did not stop us from going to the place.
Ravi Kumar, a student who was part of the group from the Hyderabad college, said, "I tried to alert my friends...I ran towards my friends but by the water level had shot up. I tried rescuing four-five of them but in a matter of seconds, the water had risen to 5-6 feet."
"My friends lost their footing and drowned before my eyes," he said. One of the students who swam to safety said authorities reached the spot very late. Police did not show any urgency in rescuing those drowning. The chief minister, who visited the spot and took stock of the rescue operations, said the first priority is to search for the bodies and transport the survivors to their native place. He said every possible assistance would be provided to the victims and the survivors.
Union HRD minister Smriti Irani also visited the spot, the hotel where the students are staying and also went to the place where bodies have been kept. Irani, who landed at Kullu airport and drove straight to the spot, assured all help to the state government and said the Union government is continuously in touch with the state and would provide every possible help for relief and rescue operations.
When asked about the reason for the tragedy, Irani said the state government has already ordered an inquiry and she would not say anything till the inquiry report is submitted. The rescue operations would be stopped after sunset and resume tomorrow and efforts would be made to locate all the bodies, officials at the Control room said.
In Hyderabad, anxious parents and relatives rushed to the private engineering college at Bachupally seeking information about their dear ones. The parents and relatives complained that they did not receive any information regarding the incident from the college management. A group of 48 students studying 2nd year Electronics and Instrumentation at a city-based private engineering college were on a study tour of Himachal Pradesh when the tragedy struck. While 24 of them disembarked to move to the river site, the others stayed behind.
"Why they (students) were taken to the river bed in the night hours? Did anyone inform us...were the parents told about this? They only collected Rs 15,000 from each student," Naik, father of a student Rambabu, who was part of the group, said. "I had spoken to my son on June 5 last. His exams had completed on June 2 and he said the college management was taking them for the tour. Whether it was a study tour or a picnic trip...nothing was informed by the management," said Naik, who hails from Nalgonda district.
Meanwhile, 15 parents and relatives of students have been brought to Delhi by an Air India flight. From Delhi, they headed to Kullu. The state government has requisitioned the Defence Ministry for helicopter and aircraft for Chandigarh and thereafter to the mishap spot in Kullu. The state government will bear all the expenditure for hiring the air services.
Andhra Pradesh government said that state minister P Narayana, representative of the government K Rammohan Rao along with some parents of the students are on their way to the accident spot.