Himachal tragedy: Five bodies recovered, students blame state
A day after 24 engineering students from a Hyderabad college were washed away in the river in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, parents and students have blamed the administration for its lack of preparedness
Mandi: Delays and a lack of a contingency plan have exposed Himachal Pradesh’s lack of preparedness to a disaster - natural or man-made, said survivors of a disaster where 26 students of a Hyderabad college were washed away on the banks of river Beas.
Scarce relief: Rescue personnel on the banks of the Beas in Kullu; (inset) Banoth Shekar, father of Rambabu Naik who is feared drowned, cries. Pics/PTI
At least 24 students, including six girls, and a tour operator were reported missing after strong currents in the river in Mandi district, some 200 km from the state capital, washed them away on Sunday evening. More than 60 students and faculty members from the VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology were on an excursion.
Some of them got off from the bus to click photos along the rippling river in Thalaut area near the Hanogi Mata temple on the National Highway-21 when they were washed away, as the flow of the river intensified owing to release of water from a nearby hydropower project without warning, official sources said. “The silent river literally turned into a watery grave within a fraction of seconds,” Kiran, one of the survivors and a faculty member said.
Another survivor Ravi Kumar said: “The water level suddenly rose to five or six feet and the students who were close to the river were washed away.” He said no help came from the district administration for hours, and the survivors, who were from the plains, were baffled. “If the administration reacted immediately, 10 to 15 lives could be saved.” He also said there were no hoardings to warn tourists not to go near the water. “Before going into the waters we asked the locals and they said you could go. When the disaster occurred, rather than helping us, they started shouting at us,” Kumar added.
Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), comprising deep water divers, were rushed to the spot following a directive from Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Aditya, who saved himself, said darkness hampered operations. “The search operation started almost 12 hours after the incident. There was no provision of searchlights.” BJP leader and local MP Ram Swaroop Sharma flayed the government for delay in relief operations.
No of tourist deaths that occur every year around Manali
A newly-wed tourist couple from Delhi drowned in the Beas in Manali in September 2008. Sumit Ranjan, 32, and Swati Sinha, 27, were clicking photographs when Swati slipped into the river. Sumit jumped into the river to save his wife but both were swept away by the strong current.
SHORTCOMINGS SURFACED DURING CRISIS
The disaster has exposed state’s poor disaster response — rescue, relief distribution and rehabilitation, said an official involved in rescue and rehabilitation operations.
>> There was no early warning system before the release of excess water, he said. “There was a total lack of coordination among rescue agencies. No nodal officer was appointed to monitor the operations,” said the official.
>> Second, he said, there was no mechanism for reaching out to the families of the affected people quickly.
>> Third, no senior official in the state headquarters was assigned to brief the media about rescue and relief efforts.