Maharashtra rains: Relatives opt to leave dead under debris, ‘will perform last rites here’

THREE DAYS after parts of a hillock came crashing down amid heavy rain on a village in Raigad’s Mahad taluka, killing at least 53 people at last count, officials, elected representatives and relatives of the dead are staring at a decision that could haunt them for the rest of their lives: leave the dead under the debris, perform their last rites at the disaster site.

According to officials, 11 bodies were recovered from Taliye village on Sunday, and 31 more are still feared buried under the debris. “The bodies should not be disturbed now, they should be declared dead,” said Kishor Pol, a local resident who lost his parents to the landslide.

“Since the bodies have decomposed, it’s very difficult to pull them out. It’s not good. The relatives will only suffer more pain and grief after seeing this and we do not wish the dead to be disturbed. We held a meeting to discuss this on Sunday afternoon, and all the relatives of those dead have reached a consensus,” Sampat Chandekar, the sarpanch, said.

“It has been three days now and the bodies have started decomposing. The dead should have dignity. The villagers and relatives of those missing want to stop the operation and declare them dead, and perform their last rites at the accident site,” Bharatshet Gogavale, the Shiv Sena MLA from Mahad, said.

“The sarpanch and I have spoken to the villagers and all them have the same demand. No one has an objection. We have conveyed this to the District Collector and discussed how to go about it. Even the rescue teams feel there is no hope of finding any survivors,” Gogavale said.

A rescue worker with an infant in Kolhapur, Saturday. (Express photo)

The relatives, however, are concerned about the paperwork needed, and the compensation process, if the bodies are left under the debris. “The administration should ensure that the necessary paperwork is done and death certificates provided,” Pol said.

Officials said it is not an easy decision for the district administration.

“Local residents and relatives of victims are demanding that the administration call off the operation and declare those missing as dead. However, the district’s disaster management team is expected to carry out the operation till the last missing person is found. There is a possibility of victims being found alive even after a few days,” District Collector Nidhi Chowdhary said.

“I tried to explain that we are expected to keep the operation on till the last missing person is found and it is our policy. But they have conveyed that they want the operation to be called off. We do not want to disrespect the villager’s wishes and hurt their emotions,” Chowdhary said.

On Sunday evening, the issue was discussed during a meeting of the MLA, District Collector, teams of NDRF, SDRF and TDRF, and a few Taliye residents. It was decided that the operation would be called off officially after the consent of every missing person’s family member is officially obtained — and a formal communication issued by the rescue teams on calling off the operation and declaring all those missing as dead.

MLA Gogavale said another meeting would be held Monday morning where consent letters from the relatives will be handed over. “Even if a single family member objects, the operation will continue,” the District Collector said.

Meanwhile, survivors of the landslide recalled the terrifying moments of Thursday evening.

The Sanas family of 14 escaped “just in time”. Dashrath Sanas said he feared that an accident was about to take place when he first saw “soil from the hill come sliding down”.

“It was unusual. I had a bad feeling and told my family to leave the house. Then, I went down to warn the villagers, many of whom had gathered at one spot with their belongings. By the time I reached them, the land came sliding down. I ran for my life and somehow survived,” said Dashrath, whose house was severely damaged.

Pratibha Kondalkar said that she, her daughter and husband had a “lucky escape” after the sliding mud stopped short of their house. “But my in-laws came under the debris as they were trying to leave the village. Their bodies have been recovered,” she said.

“A few people had started alerting the others that mud was sliding down. My husband went out to save another person and asked us to leave the house. It was then that a big part of the hillock came crashing down,” Kondalkar said.

Swapnil Shirawale, 26, survived after he was pulled out of the debris. But he lost both his legs.

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