The High Court of Himachal Pradesh yesterday directed the state government to file status report till June 24 on the steps taken by the authorities on the inquiry report submitted by the Inquiry Officer i.e. Divisional Commissioner, Mandi over Beas tragedy, where 24 B.Tech. students of VNR Vigyan Jyoti Institute of Engineering & Technology, Hyderabad are feared drowned near Thalout in Mandi district.
A Division Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan passed these orders on a petition taken up suo moto by the court taking cognizance of the news reports on the tragic incident.
In the inquiry report of the Divisional Commissioner, Mandi submitted to the court by the state government, the discharge of water in spill bays was raised from 20 cumecs at 6 P.M. to 50 cumecs at 6.15 P.M. within 15 minutes and then 150 cumecs at 6.45 P.M. i.e. after half an hour and then to 450 at 7.00 P.M. i.e. within next 15 minutes only.
He submitted that it appears that the official on duty at barrage control room failed to assess the accumulation of water and its quantity, otherwise there was no need to discharge 300 cumecs additional water. It was not an ordinary phenomenon that the reservoir water started touching the bridge on river Beas at Aut and water entered in the houses of people living near barrage. It points out the carelessness of the authorities of arbitration and maintenance division.
The Divisional Commissioner also submitted that load shedding was ordered by SLDC in the evening of June 8 in respect of Largi hydro electric power project and Bhawa hydro electric power project. The Baspa hydro electric power project owned by M/s Jai Prakash hydro power limited was allowed to run at full installed capacity whereas Largi project was directed to reduce load periodically. The SLDC should have looked into the issue of pro-rata basis load shedding across the state.
The Divisional Commissioner also submitted in inquiry report that there is no standard operating procedures related to release of water from the barrage. The officers involved in power house operation and those handling barrage operations are not working in tandem and their decisions are independent and in isolation with each other.
The warning system is also inadequate and the authorities never cared to install news hoarding despite knowledge that 8 out of 12 hoardings had been destroyed. All this constitutes a systematic failure due to wrong and entrenched faulty procedure and practices prevalent at the Largi project. There was no standard protocol available to be followed in such cases. He also submitted that the students were also informed and warned by local people and had they not turned blind towards the information, warning, calls signals and whistling of locals, they could not have drowned or washed away.
The court also directed the concerned engineering college to file affidavit containing the details as to who made the decision to allow the students to visit Himachal and the concerned site and whether the parents were taken into confidence and also the particulars of the officers/officials, who were accompanying the students. The court posted the matter for June 24.