At Pandavkada in Navi Mumbai: 3 drown, one feared dead near waterfall
Three women drowned and one was feared dead in a stream near Pandavkada waterfalls in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, on Saturday. While the bodies of Neha Jain, 19; and college students Arti Nair, 18, and Shweta Nand, 19, were found, Neha Dama, 18, was missing till the time of going to press.
Pandavkada waterfalls and its surroundings are a restricted area, as there is no adequate infrastructure to ensure safety of tourists. “The area where the women drowned on Saturday is a prohibited zone,” Pradeep Tidar, senior inspector from Kharghar police station.
Since 2011, a total of 22 people have drowned at the site.
The police said the four women were part of two separate groups. While Jain was there with her friend; Nair, Nand and Dama were students of second year BCom from SIES College, Nerul. They were accompanied by four other friends.
Search operations for Dama continued till late in the evening, but were stopped after it got dark, said the police. The operations will resume on Sunday morning.
The police have registered an accidental death report (ADR).
“The college students had reached the spot around 9.30am, while Jain and her friend were there before that. Around 10.15am, when the four were in the stream, the water level rose owing to incessant rain and washed them away,” said Tidar, adding that friends of the college students informed the police about the incident.
The police and fire brigade, with help of volunteers from nearby villages, conducted a search operation and found three bodies. “Around 2pm, we traced Jain’s body near the golf course. The bodies of Nair and Nand were found a few hours after that. We sent the bodies to Panvel rural hospital for post mortem and then handed them over to the families. The post mortem reports are yet to arrive,” said Tidar.
The incident has once again highlighted the dangers of being in the area during the monsoon. The waterfalls witness high footfall during the rains, and people enter restricted areas despite warnings from authorities.
At least three bridges are required to ensure that visitors reach the waterfall without crossing any stream. However, since these bridges are yet to be constructed, the forest department and local police have banned entry to the waterfalls during monsoon. Moreover, authorities have also put up several boards announcing the entry restriction.
“Since the onset of monsoon, we took several measures, such as deploying officials across the area, to prevent illegal entry. On July 14, we arrested 29 people from the site. A week later, 12 more were arrested. However, people from Mumbai continue to visit the waterfalls, especially over the weekends,” said Tidar. Those arrested have been charged under section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“The area around Pandavkada is huge and there are several routes to enter it. Some of the visitors come through entry points in nearby villages. It is not possible for the authorities to stop everybody. Citizens must also think about their own safety,” said another police officer, on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) plans to improve the infrastructure at the waterfalls to prevent such tragedies. “We will develop Pandavkada into a tourist spot by constructing proper roads and bridges. We will also develop certain areas into sight-seeing spots. However, this will take a few years, as the final plan is yet to take shape and we are yet to acquire some land from private owners,” said a senior Cidco official.
Activists, however, have called for urgent measures. Rajesh Salve, 34, a local activist, said, “Big plans are fine, but for now, the authorities should take immediate steps so that such incidents do not repeat. Youngsters must also pay heed to the warnings and not risk their lives by entering the restricted areas.”