The Himachal Pradesh High Court Wednesday ordered a interim compensation of Rs.5 lakh each to the families of 24 students of a Hyderabad engineering college, who were washed away in Beas river.
A division bench of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan, which treated a media report as a public interest litigation, also made it clear that a criminal probe into the matter would continue and it would monitor its progress.
The students and the tour operator were swept away June 8 after water from a nearby hydropower project dam was released without warning. The students were on a tour to Manali.
It said out of the total compensation, Rs.2.5 lakh will be paid by the state-run Larji hydropower project, responsible for the release of the water into the river, while the college will pay the balance. The amount should be deposited by or before July 9, the next date of hearing.
The interim order came after the state and the V.N.R. Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology filed a status report in connection with the case in the court Tuesday.
The court also ordered that the officials of the Larji project, who were on duty when the tragedy occurred, and the college officials who accompanied the students would be made party to the case.
Besides, it asked the state government, the Larji authorities and the college management to submit a fresh status report by July 9.
"Keeping in view the fact that the parents have lost their sons/daughters, who were undergoing engineering course and were expected to be at least engineers, which is so painful and cannot be redressed by any relief, rather no substitute is available," the bench observed.
"However, till the investigation is taken to its logical end by the investigating officer and by the other officers, who are dealing with the issue and till the disposal of this petition, we deem it proper to exercise inherent powers to grant interim relief to the unfortunate parents...," it said.
"They are on thorns and the incident is pricking them every second. We are conscious that money is not a substitute, but may be just to ameliorate their pains and sufferings," the judges said.
The chief secretary, in his status report, informed the court that 17 bodies were recovered till June 22 and it has been decided to continue with the search operation till the remaining bodies are found.
A first information report has been registered under Sections 336 and 304-A of the Indian Penal Code.
Official sources said the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments each have announced Rs.5 lakh compensation to the families' victims, while Himachal Pradesh government announced Rs.1.5 lakh each in compensation to the families of the victims.