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Crowd dad didn’t want

- Himachal River tragedy victims cremated, 19 still missing

Hyderabad, June 10: G. Prakash Rao had probably looked forward to a crowd at daughter Aishwarya’s convocation. But he had one today — at her funeral.

The entrepreneur had many strangers as guests, people who had never met him or Aishwarya, the 19-year-old who was among the Hyderabad students washed away after the dam deluge in the Beas while on an excursion tour in Himachal.

In the throng at the Swargadham crematorium in Secunderabad today were leaders of the Telugu Desam, TRS and the Congress, besides Aishwarya’s friends and neighbours.

A picture of a smiling Aishwarya had been kept near the pyre before Venkatramana, who has two other children, lit it.

Similar scenes played out at the last rites of Rambabu, Vijetha and Lakshmi Gayatri — Aishwarya’s batchmates at the local V.N.R. Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology.

The four bodies had arrived late last night on a special flight arranged for by the Chandrababu Naidu-led Andhra government.

Another plane is expected late tonight, ferrying the body of Debashish Bose after it was fished out this morning. His parents, said to hail from Bengal but settled in Hyderabad, had left for Himachal after learning about the tragedy.

Debashish’s parents are expected back home on the same flight, as are family members of some of the other 19 students still to be traced. They were part of a group of 24 Vignana students swept away on Sunday evening, besides the tour operator’s son.

But the parents of M. Kirankumar of Khammam, caught in the deluge after he pushed four classmates back to the bank, have not given up hope yet.

“My son is a swimmer. His friends say he was swept away by the strong currents after he saved four lives,” said father Venkataramana, hoping his son had swum along to safety downstream.

But an Andhra leader didn’t seem optimistic. “There is little hope of survival after 48 hours now,” said the leader of chief minister Naidu’s Desam tasked with co-ordinating assistance at the Shamshabad airport here. Naidu has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the families of the students who lost their lives in the tragedy.

N. Narsimha Reddy, the home minister of Telangana from where some of the missing students hail, threatened legal action against the authorities of Himachal’s Largi dam for allegedly releasing water without warning, besides officials of the Vignana Jyothi Institute for “criminal negligence” during the excursion.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, the apex body of all engineering colleges in the region, has banned such tours with immediate effect.

In Himachal, chief minister Virbhadra Singh ordered greater precautionary measures in water release from dams and fencing along rivers in such areas. He has already ordered a high-level probe. The Andhra students had stepped into the river to take pictures before being swept away by the deluge.