The search and rescue operation by Himachal Pradesh government after Sunday’s tragedy, when 24 students went missing in Beas river, has made no major headway so far. Till Monday evening only five bodies, four of them girls, were recovered from Pandoh reservoir by the personnel of Sashastra Seema Bal, National Disaster Response Force and police. The bodies of four students — Akulla Vijetha, Banothu Rambabu, Gampala Aishwarya, Laxmi Gayatri Appanabotla — will be brought to Hyderabad late on Monday by an Indian Air Force plane. One of the bodies is yet to be identified.
Officials are using rafts and underwater divers to search missing students of VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, Hyderabad, who were washed away by strong currents.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who flew to Mandi on Monday, has ordered a high level inquiry, headed by Divisional Commissioner of Mandi Onkar Sharma, and suspended two engineers and a fitter of Larji Hydropower Project for alleged negligence.
A group of 48 students and 11 staff members who were touring Kullu-Manali, had got down at Thalout, little realising that there was a tragedy waiting for them. Twenty-four students and tour operator Prahlad went missing after flash floods.
One faculty member Murali Kumar is also reportedly missing. G Gopal, coordinator of the VNR Vigyan Jyothi Engineering College, said Murali was with the students when the mishap occurred. “We have not been able to trace him and presume he was washed away with the students,’’ Gopal said.
Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani, who visited Pandoh, said, “The incident has sent shock waves. I believe the state government has ordered an inquiry and suspended a few officials. Once the report comes, action would be taken.” She also raised concerns as to how water from Larji project was discharged without proper warning, resulting in the tragedy.
Kiran, a faculty member accompanying the students, said there was no warning signal. “Those who tried to save the students themselves got washed away, one of them being tour operator Prahlad.” He said that there was barely one-two feet water in the river when students got down, but it suddenly started rising and rocks where the students were clicking pictures got submerged in six-seven feet water, and there was hardly any time to respond.
Former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, who spoke to the survivors in Mandi, where they were lodged after the incident, said, “The project officials compromised with safety standards.”
Responding sensitively, the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana chartered aircraft and took parents and relatives of the students to Kullu.
TDP vice-president K Rama Mohan Rao said the AP government arranged for 20 persons to reach the site. Telangana government chartered an aircraft to take parents and relatives from Hyderabad to Chandigarh and from there by road to the site of the mishap, according to Principal Secretary, General Administration Department, Ajay Mishra. Telangana CM K Chandrasekhara Rao has deputed Home Minister N Narasimha Reddy to go to Kullu to coordinate relief operations.