Palakkad: On Sunday morning, two teenagers from Tamil Nadu - students Shanmukham and Thirupathi - were bathing in the Walayar dam's catchment area alongside six friends.
However, soon the the trip turned out to be a horrific one for the group, when both of them went missing in the water. Hours later in the evening, the bodies of the duo were found from a 25 ft-deep sand pit.
With this latest fatal mishap at the reservoir along the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the total number of people who died in its deep pits, a result of illegal sand mining in the past, has gone up to 32 in just six years – mostly college students on leisure trips from Tamil Nadu.
Though most of the areas of Walayar Dam come under Tamil Nadu territory, the total governing authority falls under Palakkad district administration.
“The dam and its catchment areas are quite scenic which draw many people every day, especially youngsters from Tamil Nadu studying in various colleges in the neighbouring districts. Though we have proper entry and exit points, there are dozens of illegal access points from the Tamil Nadu side. For privacy and adventure, youngsters enter the catchment through these illegal accesses,” said a senior administrative officer from Palakkad collectorate.
The water level was 196.92 m on Sunday. Most of the catchment have dried up due to poor water inflow over the years. That said, still there are dozens of sand pits in the reservoir which makes swimming extraordinarily difficult even for the people who are familiar with the place.
It took more than two hours for the fire and rescue services personnel attached to the Kanjikode fire station to retrieve the bodies, though they drowned just 10 m away from land.
According to the Palakkad district authorities, they have been officially requesting their Tamil Nadu counterparts to construct walls in the catchment area in the neighboring state's ambit and to close illegal accesses permanently.
“We do not know why. It seems like they continuously fail to pay heed to our requests,” the officer added.
When rescue operations were underway on Sunday afternoon, another group of five students were still bathing in the area – probably unaware of what transpired to Shanmukham and Thirupathi; Walayar police had to caution and remove them from the area.
“The best way to restrict trespassing is to declare the dam catchment as a prohibited space. The dam is managed by the irrigation department. If they give us a complaint about trespassing, then we will initiate strict action, including arrests. Meantime, we have decided to increase the patrolling. Erection of more warning signboards about the dreadful pits under the water is a must,” said a senior officer at the Walayar police station.
However, residents of the area said tourists enter the catchment even at night for bathing and illegal activities. While the departmental authorities play the blame game, they said, it is they who have to act swiftly during such untoward incidents.