Krishna Reddy held up his phone, the image of a smiling girl flashing on the screen. “Where is my daughter?” he said. “Her name is Rishita Reddy, very beautiful,very friendly… No one has told me yet if she is dead or alive.”
The agony of most of the 55 parents and relatives waiting in Mandi continued Tuesday with the bodies of 19 of the 24 engineering students washed away in the Beas yet to be traced. Four bodies had been found Monday. Robin Bose was the only one whose wait ended Tuesday, with his son Devashish’s body found in the morning a few metres from the spot where the students had stepped into the river minutes before the Larji dam authorities opened its gates without warning.
As a search team over 400 strong struggled, with NDRF commandant Jaidev Singh citing heavy silt and low visibility, parents demanded that water be flushed out of the Pandoh dam but deputy commissioner Divesh Kumar turned them down. “A release will create a problem similar to what happened due to the Larji discharge. It will also flush all bodies to the Pong dam in Kangra and those will never be found.”
Despairing parents blamed not only the project authorities but also the engineering college. “It was not a tourist spot. How could junior faculty take children to the rivermouth?” said Narasimha Rao, whose nephew M Kiran Kumar saved the lives of three classmates but could not swim back himself. And Subbarao, father of P Venkata Durga Tarun, said, “It’s murder; the college is guilty.”
B Mahen Sai Raj’s father B V Subba Rao, a government engineer, blamed the dam authorities: “Why couldn’t they use sirens to alert people who had just stepped into the water?”
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Among those at the site was Santosh, an industrialist from Bangalore and not related to any of the students. He said he felt compelled to be there. “If a life is lost at my factory, I can be prosecuted for murder,” he said. “Why has no action been taken against those who wrote the death certificates of 24 budding engineers?”
Virbhadra Singh, chief minister, met top officials of the power department and the electricity board and ordered fences around all dams, installation of sign boards, and prior announcements about any discharge.
Prem Kumar Dhumal, former CM, accused the government and project officials of encouraging the sand mafia. “The site is neither a tourist spot nor a riverbed but a road built by the mafia. The students assumed it was a pathway,” he said.
N Narasimha Reddy, Telangana home minister, was in Mandi and threatened legal action against the college for organising a picnic in the garb of an industrial study tour.