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35 pilgrims drown in Narmada

Bhopal, April 10: Barely hours after the Hindu new year was greeted in the temple town of Ujjain on Friday, tragedy struck claiming the lives of 35 people who were taking a holy dip in the Narmada.

They were swept off in the strong current after water was released that evening from the Indira Sagar dam in neighbouring Khandwa.

The Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation, which operates the dam, denied it released the water without intimation.

The toll touched 35 today with the recovery of 20 more bodies. Thirty-five more are suspected to be missing, according to district authorities.

Witness accounts show the water level suddenly rose by 2 ft after the gates of the dam, 100 km upstream from the bathing spot at Dharaji, 200 km from Bhopal, were opened. A handful of lifeguards rescued many devotees but many more were washed away as they were sleeping or resting on the banks.

Chief minister Babulal Gaur will visit the spot tomorrow.

, today ordered a magisterial inquiry as also another by a committee led by water resources principal secretary Arvind Joshi. The committee has been asked to submit a report in 15 days.

The government has already announced an ex gratia of Rs 50,000 to the next of kin of the dead.

The corporation said in a news release: 'As per the requirement of MP state electricity board, additional power is being generated from the project. Water is released from the power house during evening peak hours.'

The NHDC further said it had no knowledge of the fair and the local authorities did not ask it not to release water. Water used for power generation was routinely discharged downstream, corporation officials said.

State urban administration and development minister Shivnarayan Jagirdar said the guilty would not be spared.

'It is worse than tsunami. The tsunami was beyond human control. Here it is a cent per cent manmade tragedy. The culprits should be immediately suspended and stern action should be taken against the guilty,' said state Congress general secretary Manak Aggarwal.

Over 120 people have approached police stations in the neighbourhood to enquire about relatives who have not returned from the fair. A senior official, who refused to be named, said he had prepared an informal list of 123 missing people. 'Sixty-three have returned so far,' he said.

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