In a landmark judgment, the Himachal Pradesh high court (HC), on Saturday, ordered the state government, the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB) and the Hyderabad-based VNR Vigna Jyothi engineering college, to pay Rs 20 lakh each to the kin of 24 engineering students, who were swept away in the Beas river in 2014 after floodgates of the Larji dam were opened and water was released into the river without prior warning.
Pronouncing the judgment, a division bench, headed by chief justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir, directed that the compensation amount, including the interim relief of Rs 5 lakh each, will be paid with interest at the rate of 7.5% per annum from Saturday till its final realisation.
The bench, which treated media reports about the incident as public interest litigation, asked the HPSEB, the state government and the college management to share the compensation amount in the ratio of 60, 30 and 10 respectively.
The court gave eight weeks to the respondents to deposit the money with the high court for disbursement to the kin of the deceased students.
Holding the HPSEB prima facie responsible for the tragedy, the bench said “Keeping all these factors in view, read with the inquiry report of the divisional commissioner, Mandi, the board authorities had a major role in the tragedy .”
“The HPSEB authorities had failed to exercise due care and caution, thus, are to be saddled with liability at least to the extent of 60%,” it added.
In an earlier order, passed on June 25, 2014, the high court had ordered an interim relief of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of the deceased students, which will be adjusted against the compensation awarded on Saturday.
Twenty-four students of the VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, who were on an excursion tour to Manali, and a tour operator, were swept away on June 8, 2014 at Thalot near Pandoh, after water from a nearby HPSEB –run Larji hydropower project dam was released into the Beas.
The bench, that had reserved the judgment on December 14, observed that the news about the incident was so shocking and pricking that it shattered everyone.