‘Fast discharge of water leads to large amount of sand getting settled on riverbeds’

Environmental activists and locals believe that a sand mafia, allegedly in nexus with dam officials, is responsible for the “man made” tragedy in Larji, where 25 engineering students from Andhra Pradesh drowned on Sunday when the dam gates were opened without prior warning.

Numerous big and small approach roads made from the National Highway to the Beas riverbed bear testimony to their claim. Even the accident site at Thalot, a restricted area, had one such road carved out by smugglers for the smooth running of their trolleys and tractors.

A government official, who didn’t want to be named, told The Hindu that the State government has failed in controlling the mining mafia. He also alleged that some of them even enjoy government patronage.

Green activists allege that officials are bribed to open the gates at one go instead of releasing the water slowly, as is being done in other dams. They claim that fast discharge of a huge volume of water leads to large amount of sand getting settled on riverbeds, which dry up fast.

These deposits are smuggled by the mafia in late-night operations. Questioning the rationale behind the discharge of a large amount of water, locals and activists also raised questions over why the dam authorities have not pasted any warning posters or put up hoardings at such sites.

They also question why patrol vehicles with sirens are not run on roads alongside the river on such occasions.

Kullu district secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Prem Gautam, who headed the Centre of Indian Trade Unions in the Larji project, said authorities had not placed a proper warning system at the dam site and not sealed or fenced the 5-km stretch up to the power house site, which puts the lives of human and cattle in peril.

Larji dam officials also admitted that warning hooters at the site were ineffective and insufficient. They attributed the tragedy to government apathy.

Mr. Gautam said that hundreds of CITU workers and locals, who had come forward to help the authorities in search operations, were stopped by the local police. He claimed that only local rafters retrieved many of the bodies found.

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