The death toll from the Indira Sagar dam disaster has risen to at least 65, according to rescue services at the scene.

The 65 Hindu pilgrims died on April 9 when water was released from the Narmada river dam in Madhya Pradesh at the same time as a religious gathering taking place 100 km downstream. An estimated 300 000 Hindus had congregated on the banks of the Narmada near Dewas, 200 km from the state capital Bhopal.

It is traditional, and has religious significance, on the eve of the annual festival of ‘Bhootdi Aamavasya’, or ‘Moonless Night’, to bathe in the river and several hundred people had gathered to do so near Dhariji village, along with many more pilgrims camping on the banks of the river.

Water levels rose after the dam opened its sluice gates and about 150 people were swept away. Several boats and divers searched the water intensively for survivors following the tragedy, and lifeguards did manage to save a number of people, but an estimated 60 people are still missing. Rescuers say that those who did not survive will have been swept well downstream.

State authorities said the incident occurred after the gates opened without warning, but officials at state-run Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corp have denied responsibility. They say that the release of water was simply a routine part of power production, and that dam officials were unaware of the large crowd downstream because they had not been informed about it. Local police say that people gathered on the river banks had been warned of a possible rise in water levels.

The Madhya Pradesh government demanded an immediate report on the incident from the principal secretary of the water resources department, to be submitted before the end of April, and has offered compensation of $3 000 to the family of each victim.

The Indira Sagar has a full reservoir level of 262m and is one of more than 3000 dams being built on the Narmada river and its tributaries as part of the Narmada Valley hydro project.