24 students washed away in north India river surge

SHIMLA, India (AFP) - Twenty-four students were missing late Sunday after being washed downstream by a sudden surge of river water in a remote Himalayan valley in northern India, a state minister said.

The students had stopped to take photographs on the edge of the Beas river in Himachal Pradesh when water released from a dam washed them downstream, transport minister G.S Bali said.

Rescue workers using torches in the dark were attempting to find the students in the picturesque Kullu Valley, some 200 kilometres (130 miles) north of the state capital Shimla, the minister said.

"Rescue teams are looking downstream for the missing in the dark," he said.

"They are 24 engineering students of the VNR college in Hyderabad," he said.

"The students had got off the bus to take photographs at the edge of the river at around 7:30pm when the sudden rise of water washed them away," he said.

A local official blamed the surge of water on a hydroelectric power plant further upstream.

"The water was released by the Larji power project dam," said senior state official Rakesh Kanwar said.

The students, from the VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology in the southern city of Hyderabad, had been travelling to the resort town of Manali further north.

The stunning Kullu Valley is home to raging rivers, dense forests and steep gorges.

Himachal Pradesh and other Himalayan states including neighbouring Uttarakhand are home to a string of hydroelectric projects as India rushes to expand power generation to meet rising demand.

Governments are attempting to harness the power of rivers despite the risk of environmental damage to diversify away from costly and polluting coal and gas plants to meet the country's electricity shortage.