Around 300,000 Hindus had congregated to bathe downstream from the dam on the banks of the Narmada river near Dewas, 200km from Bhopal, to pray in the annual festival of ‘Bhootdi Aamavasya’, or ‘Moonless Night’. Water levels rose after the dam opened its gates and hundreds of people were swept away.

The Indira Sagar has a full reservoir level of 262.13m and is one of more than 3000 dams being built across Narmada river and its tributaries.

Officials at state-run Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC) say the release was simply a routine part of dam operations, and that officials on the Indira Sagar were unaware of the large crowd downstream.

SK Dodeja, chief of NHDC, said that the company had planned to release 60m3 of water every day for eight days. He was quoted in the Tehelka paper as saying ‘It was the district administration’s job to warn the pilgrims and the NHDC of the crowds congregating on the banks of the Narmada. Lack of coordination between the local authorities and NHDC led to the misunderstanding.’

IPS News quote NHDC chief managing director S.K. Sodeja as attributing the tragedy to a ‘communication gap’ between the corporation and the local administration.

Anti large dam activists are angered by the reluctance of the Madhya Pradesh state government, NHDC’s partner, to investigate the incident beyond an internal inquiry, a move they say is the authorities trying to evade responsibility.

‘We are demanding an independent judicial inquiry into the tragedy rather than a state government inquiry,’ Himanshu Thakkar, a hydrologist and well-known activist of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), told IPS News.

The Madhya Pradesh government did announce reparation for the families of those lost. ‘It is a sad and horrific incident, and that’s why we have decided to give a compensation of 100,000 Rupees (US$2300) each to the families of the victims,’ Chief Minister Babu Lal Gaur told reporters at the site of the incident.

Gaur has, however, refused to comment on the tragedy saying that he would prefer to await the results of the inquiry he ordered.

• Read more on this story at