College field trips, popularly known as 'industrial visits' (IV) are something most students eagerly look forward to. Not only because they expect learning new things outside the classroom and gaining practical experience, but also because it is a break from the usual classroom sessions, away from college and home. The routines usually followed during these trips have a perfect balance between visiting industries and sightseeing of the location.
Since these trips are conducted by the school/college as a part of the curriculum, it becomes easy for the students to get permission from parents to attend. The field trip organisations are usually handed over to travel agencies. Planning, executing and organising an IV is anyway a more difficult task than a usual trip, considering that the group of tourists are a bunch of young enthusiastic and usually adventure loving teenagers.
So, the mishap which occurred due to the flash flooding of the Beas, Mandi, raises a question that whose fault is it anyway? Is it the 24 students who were washed away to be blamed, their tour operator or the college faculty? Their IV turned into the worst nightmare for the group of 65 engineering students on a study tour to Kulu-Manali from Hyderabad's VNR Vigyan Jyoti college.
On June 8, when their group stopped at a place on the Manali-Kiratpur Highway, near Thalot, 40kms away from Mandi, little did they know that 24 of their own batchmates would drown in the very same river on whose banks they posed for photographs and selfies. The Beas which was relatively shallow when the students waded through the waters for pictures, saw a sudden rise in its water levels as soon as the sluice gates of the dam were opened. A sudden gushing of water from the Beas' reservoir of 126 MW Larji Hydropower project swept away 24 students, including 18 boys and 6 girls and 1 tourist guide.
Raman Teja, a student from the batch, who witnessed the tragic view of his friends drowning in the flash flood said, the water levels were shallow when my friends waded through the waters for photographs. After 10 minutes a local man shouted out and said that the flood gates of the dam were open. It was too late by then as the water levels rose quickly. There was no warning heard by any dam authorities and for nearly three hours, no search or rescue party turned up. The police also did not respond properly, Teja said.
While Virbhadra Singh, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh talking about the incident on June 9 said, “Several buses and tourists travel up and down all through the year through the summer season. This is the first time such a tragedy has happened, which is very unfortunate. Teachers should have taken precaution and prevented the students from going into the water. I however don't want to blame anyone,” Singh said.
CV Anand, Hyderabad city police commissioner told the media, “It appears that the dam authorities did not follow the proper drill before releasing the water in the river.” He said this after he spoke to his counterparts in Himachal Pradesh.
Talking about the incident, Mark Alexander, who runs one of India's most sought after travel agencies for student trips, Glotrip-Happy Miles said, “The government should have put up a sign board or fencing. An official security guard could have also been appointed. A police patrolling van before the water was released could also make a difference. The students and the faculty are not at fault as they were tourists and did not know about it. Neither can we blame the tour guide because if this was an everyday happening, he would be aware as they constantly interact and work with the locals. The signaling or the hooters were not received by the victims or the guide.”
The mishap at Mandi is very unfortunate and negligence of security matters in tourist locations which the government should have taken care of has cost the life of 25 people in this case. If only the authorities for tourism are a bit more alert and careful, with stricter safety norms probably, student trips could be a safer learning experience. True that such incidents are rare, but it surely raises an alarm. While the search for the bodies still continues, the parents of the victims still look for answers about whose fault was it or who is to be blamed anyway?