Mandi (Himachal Pradesh), June 22 :
Almost two weeks after 24 visiting students from an engineering college in Hyderabad and a tour operator were washed away in the Beas river, three more bodies were recovered Sunday, taking the total number of bodies retrieved to 16, officials said.
Eight students and the tour operator are still missing and the search operation continued for the 14th day.
The bodies were identified as those of Bairineni Ritwik, Muppidi Kiran Kumar, C.H. Parameshwar.
These were spotted near the Pandoh dam, almost 15 km downstream from the accident spot, police said.
One more body was also recovered from the spot, but it has not been identified, police officials said. It may not be of one of the missing students.
In the past four days, seven swollen bodies of students have surfaced in the river water.
Rescuers said the remaining bodies have also got swollen and would automatically surface in the water.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said the rescue operation would not stop till all the bodies are recovered.
The students from the V.N.R. Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology were swept away June 8 after water was released into the river without warning from nearby 126 MW Larji hydropower project.
The focus of the search operation is on the 15-km-long downstream stretch of the river from the Larji project dam to the Pandoh dam.
A government inquiry report, submitted to the Himachal Pradesh High Court in Shimla last week, pointed out gross negligence by the Larji project authorities in releasing water into the river.
The project authorities, says the report, abruptly discharged 450 cusecs into the Beas river.
The students, who were on a holiday trip to Manali and standing on the boulders in the river bed for a picture-postcard photo shoot, were caught unawares when strong rapid current carried them away.
Official sources told IANS that the high court, which directed the state to file a status report in court by June 24 about the steps it initiated after the completion of the probe, might expand the scope of the probe as standard operating procedure for release of water from the dam is also not being adequately followed by most of the hydro projects in the state.
Himachal Pradesh, one of the country’s largest producers of hydropower, has more than 150 micro and mega run-of-the-river projects in private and public sectors.
There was a systemic failure in releasing water into the Beas without a warning from the Larji project, and the warning system itself was inadequate, said the inquiry report submitted to a division bench of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan.
The report said the students were also informed and warned by locals (about the release of water into the river), and had they not turned a blind eye towards the warning calls, signals and whistling by locals, they could not have been washed away or drowned.
The bench directed the engineering college to file an affidavit containing the details as to who made the decision to allow the students to visit Himachal Pradesh and the concerned site.
The court will next hear the matter June 24.