Salvage operations at the Beas river in Mandi district made little headway even on Wednesday, three days after 25 people were washed away by dam waters, but Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel did recover the body of Mohammad Sabir Hussain Shaikh — who was among the 24 missing engineering students from the Hyderabad institute.
His grief-stricken mother, Aisa Begum, who had been camping at Mandi for the past three days was inconsolable as she was invited to identify his body. She had only on Tuesday declared that she will not return home without his body. “Hey Allah. You are so powerful. This is your son, give him peace,” she burst out in sobs as the body was taken to the local hospital for legal formalities; it was later flown to Hyderabad.
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Her husband Shaikh Raja showed pictures of Sabir on his mobile phone screen as other parents camping at Pandoh – the camp site for the search operations – consoled his wife.
ITBP commandant Laxman Yadav said Sabir’s body had been stuck under water, some one kilometre below the Hanogi Mata temple; rafters had zeroed in after suspecting an object. “It’s a difficult operation but is well coordinated with other agencies,” he added.
Six bodies have been recovered so far, while the search is on for the remaining 19 missing including tour operator Prahlad. Parents however seem to be losing patience at the slow pace of search operation with Telangana Home Minister N Narshima Reddy on Wednesday stating that there was a need to increase manpower and deploy advanced equipment like underwater cameras.
“After visiting the spot along with the families, I spoke to Jatinder Reddy, my party’s (TDP) floor leader in Parliament, and asked him to meet Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. He (Reddy) along with Vinod ,another MP, met the home minister and sought the Army’s involvement in the search operations. Our government has also sent a written request to the Union defence secretary in this regard,” he said.
Andhra Revenue Minister Narayan Rao, who is also camping at Mandi, said Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu also spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who, he added, has agreed to send navy divers for the search operation. “ The chief minister has offered to bear the cost of sending the navy divers if need be as our priority is to locate the bodies of the missing students,” he said .
Mandi deputy commissioner Divesh Kumar, who held a review meeting with different agencies engaged in the operation, said navy divers were expected to join the efforts.
The major challenge for the rescue teams has been the 16-km stretch of river between Thalout (the site of the tragedy) and Pandoh dam as heavy silt, boulders and mud in the water have reduced visibility making it difficult for the divers. NDRF commandant Jaidev Singh said rescue teams are using hooks and bamboo sticks to locate the bodies.
B V Suba Rao, father of a missing student, said every passing minute of his son’s body not being recovered was causing more and more pain to him and his family back
“In this high-tech world, there are many devices that can be used to locate people in water. I am myself a dam engineer. Sadly, authorities here are still relying on divers – a time consuming and cumbersome process,” he said.