Malin landslide toll hits 82, many still trapped
Rescuers on Saturday found one more body under mud and debris in Pune district's Malin village, where a landslide swallowed up more than 100 people, taking the death toll to 82.
Officials say at least 100 people are still feared to be trapped under the mountain of mud.
On the fourth day of search and rescue operation, a team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is facing foul smell emanating from the bodies of the villagers and cattle that are still trapped.
NDRF personnel have been given masks and other equipment as a precautionary measure.
Incessant rain has also posed a serious problem for the rescue team.
Officials initially felt they would take three days to complete the rescue operation, they now say it may take another four days to remove the mountain of mud to find more bodies.
Maharashtra home minister RR Patil also visited the village and assured help to the residents.
Mass cremations of the victims are being carried out in Malin after relatives identified the bodies of their loved ones.
"The extrication work is progressing at a slow pace because of restricted movements of JCBs and other heavy equipment due to huge mound of mud and water," said a rescue official.
To expedite the process of digging out bodies and save time, NDRF is using both sniffer dogs and life detectors that can sense heartbeats.
The force, which mobilised 378 rescue workers to help with the search, has worked during the night in a desperate hunt for any more survivors after lights powered by portable generators were set up.
Watch: Rescue work on, 76 bodies dug out so far
"Our boys are facing a gruelling task. Adverse weather and lack of space to operate heavy machinery are the main things," said Gautam Sarkar, an assistant commandant of the NDRF.
According to Sarkar, finding people alive would be extremely unlikely as the houses are buried under layers of wet mud, which makes chances of survival bleak, since no oxygen can go in.
Nevertheless, additional earth-moving machinery was being brought in, said Alok Avasthy, the NDRF operations head who estimated the search effort would run for another two days.
Pinning the blame
Reacting to reports blaming a government-sponsored team for the disaster, relief and rehabilitation minister Patangrao Kadam said once the rescue operation was over, the government will investigate the cause of the landslide.
Two days of torrential rains triggered the landslide early Wednesday, burying dozens of homes in the hilly area with a chunk of hillside giving way.
Environment activists allege that every summer, just before the monsoon, the state agriculture department levels land on hills so that villagers can carry out farming activity.
The scheme includes levelling of the land, blocking water and creating artificial ponds used for fish farming.
Blaming the agriculture department for being responsible for the landslide, local activist Suresh Talekar has filed a complaint against officials at Ghodegaon police station.
In Pune, Kadam discussed the rehabilitation plan of the Malin village with officials.
"Forty four houses out of total 174 have been affected by the disaster. Once the rescue operation is over, we will ask the villagers whether they want to be relocated to safer places," said Kadam.
The minister said the recovery of bodies could take two more days in view of the inclement conditions.
The state government has announced an assistance of Rs. 5 lakh each to the victims' families with an assurance of their total rehabilitation.
(With PTI inputs)