Unable to make much progress in the search for the engineering students, who were washed away in the Beas on Sunday, the Himachal Pradesh today decided to launch a special operation to dry the river for an hour on Saturday.
The water will be stopped at 7 am. More than 600 jawans, most of them already at the spot, will undertake a manual and physical combing of the river once the water discharge is completely plugged at the dams of two upstream projects — Parbati (III) and Larji barrage.
Till now, only eight bodies have been recovered, three of them girls. The search — involving highly skilled navy divers, NDRF jawans, army and SSB personnel and rafters — for 16 others and the tour operator is still under way in the 16-km stretch of the Beas river and Pong Dam, which is the base camp for the operation.
No body was recovered today despite highly advanced technology like Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and multi-beam echosounders being deployed by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). Eight navy divers who reached Mandi yesterday have also joined the search.
Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Anil Sharma, who camped at the site today, said the special operation on Saturday, the first of its kind, was devised after consultations with all the agencies involved in the search operation and dam authorities.
“We are in close contact with the Telangana government and Andhra Pradesh authorities, beside the families. Because of peculiar conditions, the search has failed to make headway and the families are getting worried,” he said.
Telangana Home Minister N Narsimha Reddy said a group of MPs led by Jatender Reddy met Union Home minister Rajnath Singh and demanded advanced equipment and additional manpower to search for bodies.
The Telangana Home Minister said there was no complaint against the state government. He thanked the Chief Minister for arranging for boarding and lodging of the parents and other logistics. “The river is filled with silt, the flow is fast and there are big boulders,” he admitted, adding that drying the river would facilitate the search.
Divisional commissioner Mandi Onkar Sharma said he has started an inquiry into the incident and statements of the engineers of the Larji project have been recorded. He has also summoned records from HPSEB on power generation and the period during which the water was discharged from the barrage and whether standard oprocedure was followed.
On orders of the Chief Minister, the forest department has erected barbed wire and blocked the road leading to the site of the tragedy. The road was built illegally by the sand mafia, who used to load trucks and smuggle land after the water was discharged from the Larji barrage.