A completely inadequate and non-existent warning system at Larji project, abrupt discharge of 450 cumecs of water from the barrage into the Beas river and a complete disconnect between the generation engineering and barrage staff are three prime reasons for Beas tragedy,which resulted in death of 24 engineering students on June 8 at Mandi.
Divisional Commissioner Mandi Onkar Sharma, who was the inquiry officer, has squarely blamed the Larji project authorities for the deaths. It was a total systematic failure at the project, he wrote.
Sharma, who was summoned by the High Court over a PIL, informed the court that he has submitted the report to the government and also laid its copy before a division bench comprising Chief Justice M A Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan.
The report, he told the court through advocate general Shravan Dogra, has pointed out glaring lapses and failure of the Larji project authorities in release of the water and non-adherence to Standard Operating Procedure and lack of warning system.
State’s Advocate General Shravan Dogra admitted that inquiry report has indicted the HPSEB Ltd and Larji project for failures that resulted in the
tragedy and loss of 25 lives (24 students) and a tour operator. The warning system was inadequate and non-functional. He, however, assured that the government would examine all the shortcomings and would come-out with an action plan to fix them.
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However, at this stage, Chief Justice chose to act tough, saying the court was not interested as what the government/administration had done after the tragedy. “We want to know what went wrong and who are persons/agencies responsible for students’ deaths,” the Chief Justice told the Advocate General.
The court directed the government to file a status report by June 24, informing in detail about steps taken by the authorities on the inquiry report.
In the 93-page report, which is divided in five chapter dealing with failures of Larji project, Divisional Commissioner said the discharge of water
in spillbays was just 20 cumecs at 6 pm on June 8, which first rose of 50 cumecs at 6.15 pm, and then within 15 minutes, it went upto 150 cumecs. Thereafter, in the next 15 minutes, 450 cumecs of water was following downstream, leaving no scope for the students – who were at Thalout, barely 2.7 km below the barrage to respond and save themselves. The discharge was very high and it all happened in 15 minutes time as per the record of the HPSEB.
The report says it appeared that the official on duty at Barrage Control Room failed to assess the accumulation of water and its quantity, otherwise
there was no need to discharge 300 cumecs additional water. It was not an ordinary phenomenon that the reservoir water started touching the bridge on river Beas at Aut and water entered in the houses of people living near Barrage. It pointed out the carelessness of the authorities of arbitration and Maintenance Division.
The report has also hit out at state Load Dispatch Centre, which had told the Larji project authorities to reduce generation from 126 MW to 32 MW. “Baspa Hydro Electric Power Project owned by M/s Jai Prakash Hydro Power Limited was allowed to run at full installed capacity whereas Largi Project was directed to reduce load periodically. The SLDC should have looked into the issue of pro-rata basis load shedding across the State,” it says.
The report further points out that that there was no Standard Operating Procedures related to release of water from the Barrage. The officers involved in Power House operation and those handling barrage operations are not working in tandem and their decisions are independent and in isolation with each other.