The tragic death of 24 students of a Hyderabad-based engineering college near Mandi in Himachal Pradesh on Sunday was totally avoidable. They met with a watery grave when a flash flood in the Beas they were photographing washed them away. The flood struck when the dam was opened to reduce the water level in the reservoir. Neither the authorities of the dam nor the visiting students and the faculty members guiding them showed even elementary concern for safety. Chief minister Virbhadra Singh has ordered an inquiry that will, hopefully, fix blame and punish the guilty. But for the families of the 18 boys and six girls, the tragedy will haunt them forever.
From the available reports it is clear that the authorities had failed to give a warning about opening the shutters of the dam. The argument that it is opened as and when the water level touches the danger mark is not valid. There are standard procedures like blowing the siren to inform the people who live on the banks of the river before opening the floodgates. The students stopped there to take photographs of the river. Had there been signboards to warn them of the dangers of stepping on the riverbed, they would probably not have been as reckless as they turned out to be. What’s worse, it all happened in a few seconds and before the eyes of their classmates.
Picnic and excursion-related tragedies are quite common in India, particularly when the destination is close to water bodies. Caution often gives way to the excitement of playing in water, regardless of the risk involved. The depth and flow of water are difficult to be measured, leading to accidents and deaths. In any case, safety does not get due attention as people tend to take unnecessary risks. Come to think of it, the students became victims of the lack of communication in these days of instant communication. The tragedy should prompt the authorities of all such dams all over India to put in place a proper warning system to alert people before dams are opened.