MANDI: Bodies of five Hyderabad-based engineering students, who were washed away in the turbulent waters of Beas River along with 19 classmates and a tour operator, were today found as Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh ordered a magisterial inquiry and suspended two senior engineers and a fitter of Larji Hydropower Project for alleged negligence.
Search continued for the 19 students and tour operator Prahlad, who were engaged in a photo session on the bank of Beas, when they were washed away due to sudden discharge of water in the river from the reservoir of 126 MW Larji project.
The 70-member rescue teams comprising two battalions of SSB, assisted by police, homeguard and local divers and rafters were engaged in rescue operations since morning and one body was recovered from the spot near Thalot while four bodies were fished out from Pandoh dam. "The high volume of water and shortage of boats is causing some problem but we have list of missing persons and hope to recover the bodies. Our jawans are moving in boats and strict vigil is being maintained along the banks of Beas by NDRF teams. Twelve divers are also assisting in rescue operations," SSB officials said.
A control Room has been set up at Mandi and a helpline has also been provided to assist the relatives of victims. Taking a serious view of the incident, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh ordered a magisterial enquiry by Divisional Commissioner, Mandi to fix responsibility for the tragedy and suggest measure to stop recurrence of such incidents.
Resident Engineer at the project Manjeet, Executive Engineer N.S Dhatwalia and fitter Harbans have been placed under suspension for alleged negligence.
The Chief Minister said the project authorities sounded the alarm (hooter) but the students did not pay heed. However, one of the survivors said no alarm was sounded and there was no board cautioning the people against going to the bank and even the local people did not stop us from going to the place.
Ravi Kumar, a student who was part of the group from the Hyderabad college, said, "I tried to alert my friends...I ran towards my friends but by the water level had shot up. I tried rescuing four-five of them but in a matter of seconds, the water had risen to 5-6 feet." "My friends lost their footing and drowned before my eyes," he said.
One of the students who swam to safety said authorities reached the spot very late. Police did not show any urgency in rescuing those drowning. The Chief Minister, who visited the spot and took stock of the rescue operations, said the first priority is to search for the bodies and transport the survivors to their native place.
He said every possible assistance would be provided to the victims and the survivors.
Union HRD minister Smriti Irani also visited the spot, the hotel where the students are staying and also went to the place where bodies have been kept.
Irani, who landed at Kullu airport and drove straight to the spot, assured all help to the state government and said the Union government is continuously in touch with the state and would provide every possible help for relief and rescue operations.
When asked about the reason for the tragedy, Irani said the state government has already ordered an inquiry and she would not say anything till the inquiry report is submitted.
The rescue operations would be stopped after sunset and resume tomorrow and efforts would be made to locate all the bodies, officials at the Control room said.
In Hyderabad, anxious parents and relatives rushed to the private engineering college at Bachupally seeking information about their dear ones.
The parents and relatives complained that they did not receive any information regarding the incident from the college management.
A group of 48 students studying 2nd year Electronics and Instrumentation at a city-based private engineering college were on a study tour of HP when the tragedy struck.
While 24 of them disembarked to move to the river site, the others stayed behind.