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Warning, but too late
- Student who went back to fetch bottle told of siren by ‘local man’

June 11: Srujan Panuganti had just stepped ashore to get a bottle to collect the holy water of the Beas when a local resident told him about the siren.

He rushed back towards his friends but the wall of water released from the dam was faster.

“A local man told me a siren has been sounded on release of water from the dam and I rushed towards my friends and started alerting those in the river... but with the sudden heavy release of water my classmates were washed away,” Srujan said at his residence in Hyderabad today.

On June 9, a day after the dam tragedy, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh had suspended two senior engineers and a fitter at the Larji Hydropower Project for alleged negligence amid a controversy over whether an alarm had been sounded before the water was released.

Even if what the local resident told Srujan is correct, it is unlikely that the 24 engineering students from Hyderabad, laughing and clicking photographs in the knee-deep water before they were swept away by the sudden surge after the release, would have understood what it meant.

A parent of a missing student hit the nail on the head. “Had there been a ‘danger’ sign, the students would not have ventured anywhere near,” the parent said.

Srujan’s comments came on a day a Himachal police officer, Mandi SP R.S. Negi, said the Larji project authorities had been booked under IPC sections 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 304-A (causing death by negligence).

Search teams today fished out the body of a sixth student. “The body was recovered from a place called Khopi Nala near Pandoh dam. The deceased has been identified as Mohd Sabir Hussain Shaikh,” Negi said.

Sabir’s mother broke down when the river threw up her son’s body. “This river has snatched my son, tomorrow it will be somebody else’s son. When will the state government awake?” she sobbed.

For two days, Ayisha Begum’s eyes had scanned the mighty Beas, hoping against hope for a miracle.

Her sleepless vigil ended today but parents of the 18 students still missing remained on edge as their nightmare wait continued.

“There is no information from anyone regarding my son’s whereabouts. It is three days since the incident happened. Tomorrow is his birthday,” M. Sanjay Kumar sobbed into the phone from Warangal, Telangana.

His son Akhil, one of the students of Hyderabad’s V.N.R. Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology who were part of the study tour to Himachal, is still missing.

“We don’t expect all the missing students to be alive. We now need at least bodies to be handed over to us. We want to see their faces. We are begging now. Please, please. This is an appeal from 24 parents,” pleaded another parent.

In Delhi, the National Human Rights Commission issued notices to the Himachal chief secretary and the deputy commissioner of Mandi, and asked for a report within two weeks.