A week after 24 engineering students from Hyderabad were swept away by the Beas waters, sluice gates of the Larji hydelpower project were closed Saturday morning to dry a three-km stretch of the river. But rescue personnel, who had earlier recovered eight bodies, failed to find any of the remaining 16 bodies, which are now believed to have been swept further downstream.
The unsuccessful search shattered the hopes of the parents and relatives of the missing students, who have been camping near the site in Mandi for the past six days. Officials involved in the operation said the search would now move further downstream.
Facing pressure from the parents of the missing students, the state government had proposed the massive one-time action — of drying the river — to clear the stretch as there were apprehensions that the bodies may have been trapped under boulders in the riverbed.
Around 7 am, the sluice gates of the Larji project were closed for more than two hours to dry the river stretch between Thalout — the site of the tragedy — and the Tail race tunnel of Larji project.
More than 500 rescue personnel, including divers from the Navy, Army and National Disaster Response Force, were involved the search operation.
Telangana ADGP (Special Battallion) Rajiv Trivedi, an accomplished swimmer who once crossed the Palk Strait between Sri Lanka and India, also led a separate group of his trained policemen in the search operation. He said he was disappointed at the end of the day but has not lost hope. He suspected the bodies might have been swept further downstream — possibly beyond Pandoh.
“I think such an operation should have been conducted the very next day of the tragedy. It could have plugged chances of the bodies being washed away to the downstream Pandoh dam. I don’t know if the floodgates of Pandoh dam were also opened on that particular day. If yes, chances are that the bodies may have been swept further downstream. Yet I am hopeful and suggest a three-fold search operation — on surface, deep water and aerial,” Trivedi said.
Telangana Home Minister Naini Narsimha Reddy too said the operation came a little too late. “My suggestion to reduce water level at Pandoh and dry the Beas was not conceded on Monday — the day I reached. It should have been done on day one,” he said.
Andhra Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister N Chinna Rajappa, who is camping at the site along with leaders and officials from Telangana, held a meeting with the Mandi Deputy Commissioner on the future course of action. Rajappa said it was decided that radar equipment used to trace buried objects will be used under water by the rescue divers on Sunday.
“We are also trying to get in touch with national and international institutes like the National Institute of Oceanology and NASA to get scientific inputs and equipment for the search,” he said.
NDRF commandant Jaideep Singh said, “Now that a three-km stretch has been searched and we know there is no body, we can take up the next stretch. Basic problem, however, remains. The water is muddy, extremely cold and filled with silt, reducing visibility for divers.”