Nineteen months after the tragedy that killed 24 students from Hyderabad who were washed away in Beas river at Thalout in Mandi district, the Himachal Pradesh High Court on Saturday awarded Rs 20 lakh compensation each to the parents of the deceased.
The court ordered Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB), the state government and college management to share compensation in the ratio of 60:30:10 respectively. It give eight weeks to deposit the money with for further disbursements to the next of the kin of the deceased students.
The order was passed by a division bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan on a PIL which the court had taken in its suo moto action based on the media reports on June 9, 2014. The court earlier had awarded Rs 5 lakh interim compensation which now will be adjusted with the amount ordered.
The tragedy had occurred on June 8, 2014 when the students, who were on way to Manali on an excursion, along with a tour guide, were swept away on Beas river bank when the Larji project authorities (manned by HPSEB) had abruptly released water from a reservoir.
Making strong observations against HPSEB authorities who were, prima facie, held responsible for the death of the engineering students by an inquiry, the bench said, “Keeping all these factors in view, the board authorities had a major role in the tragedy. They had failed to exercise due care and caution, thus, are to be saddled with liability at least to the extent of 60 percent.”
According to the court order, the VNR Vigyana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, Hyderabad has been told to share 30 percent of total liability and state government will contribute rest 10 percent.
In the inquiry report, Divisional Commissioner Mandi, Onkar Sharma had held that the Larji project authorities had acted in most irresponsible manner to release the water from the reservoir upstream without any prior warning.
The negligence shown by the in charge officers/officials of the Board resulted in tragedy which caused an irreparable loss to the families of budding engineers, said the court order.
The court, however, made it clear that findings in the judgment and observations made will have no bearing on other criminal civil matter or departmental proceedings.