Dam water kills Indian pilgrims

Police in central India have found the bodies of 54 Hindu pilgrims who were swept away by dam water released by mistake in Madhya Pradesh state.

At least 10 others are missing after water from the Indira Sagar dam hit a bathing spot near Dewas, 200km (125 miles) from Bhopal, police say.

About 300,000 pilgrims had gathered to pray on the river banks last Thursday when water levels rose suddenly.

Dam officials admit releasing water but say they were not told of the holy dip.


Police say between 10 and 12 people are still unaccounted for, but acknowledge that the number of casualties could top 65.

Many were sleeping on the river banks when they were washed away
—Police officer

Some estimates say more than 100 people could be missing, the BBC's Faisal Mohammed in the state capital, Bhopal, reports.

"Lifeguards on the banks of the Narmada rescued many people," one police officer told Reuters news agency.

He said pilgrims had been sleeping by the river when disaster struck at the village of Dharaji.

Search and rescue teams spent the weekend recovering bodies after gates had been hurriedly closed at the dam about 100km upstream.

"Several people are missing from our group which comprised nearly 44 people. We have sent out boats to try and find them," one pilgrim, Krishna Kumar, told the AFP news agency.

Police say dozens of anxious relatives are seeking information about loved ones.

The state administration says it was not warned of the water release in advance.

But SK Dodeja, the head of the state-run Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC), said the release was routine.

He blamed local authorities for not warning dam officials of the Hindu fair.

"It was the district administration's job to warn the... NHDC of the crowds congregating on the banks of the Narmada," he told reporters in Bhopal.

"Lack of co-ordination between the local authorities and NHDC led to the misunderstanding."

Mega project

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Babulal Gaur, who visited the site of the disaster on Monday, has announced an investigation and compensation for families of the dead.

The Narmada is one of the largest, and most heavily dammed rivers in India.

More than 3,000 dams are being built across the river and its tributaries as part of the controversial Narmada Valley project.

It has led to hundreds of families being moved from surrounding villages.

Supporters of the project say it will bring water to millions and help generate vital electricity. Critics say the human and environmental costs are too high.

Published: 2005/04/11 11:32:22 GMT


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