Official Fined for Draining Reservoir to Find Phone

State irrigation department in India orders Rajesh Vishwas to pay for wasted water
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2023 7:00 AM CDT
Updated Jun 4, 2023 3:45 PM CDT
Government Official Orders Dam Drained to Find Lost Phone
Whoops.   (Getty Images/welcomeinside)
UPDATE May 31, 2023 1:20 PM CDT

An official in India who drained a reservoir to search for his lost phone has to pay for the water as well as a new phone. Food inspector Rajesh Vishwas, who retrieved his $1,200 Samsung device but found it was unusable, has been fined the equivalent of around $640 by the irrigation department of Chhattisgarh state, the Guardian reports. Vishwas was suspended from his position last week amid outrage at the wasting of around 500,000 gallons of water that was meant to be used by local farmers. He insisted that the phone he dropped in the water during a picnic with friends had to be recovered because it held sensitive government information.

May 27, 2023 7:00 AM CDT

Usually when people make headlines for selfies, the stories are of a more tragic nature. A government official in India, however, earned his 15 minutes of fame, and a suspension, after his picture-taking antics led to an entire reservoir being drained in search of his dropped phone. Rajesh Vishwas, a food inspector in Pakhanjur, in India's central state of Chhattisgarh, was on vacation at the Kherkatta Dam with friends on Sunday when he decided to take a selfie with his smartphone, report ABC Australia and the BBC. The $1,200 Samsung device slipped out of his hands, however, and plunged into the water, at which point most people would be hurling expletives and heading online to see about buying a new phone.

Vishwas had other plans, however. First, he called in local divers to see if they could find the phone. They came up empty, informing Vishwas that the water level would have to be substantially lower for them to make any headway. That's when the persistent 32-year-old, who claimed his phone contained sensitive government info, brought in a diesel pump to start to drain the reservoir. The pump, which ran for several days, ended up pulling out more than 500,000 gallons of water—enough to irrigate nearly 1,500 acres of farmland. Vishwas, who insisted that the water wasn't suitable for either drinking or agricultural use, also claimed that he had a verbal OK from local water officials.

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That apparently wasn't the case: After a complaint was called in and a water resource agency official showed up at the site, the pump was ordered to be turned off. "Water is precious, and what Mr. Vishwas has done is devoid of any logic or reasoning," Kanker district official Priyanka Shukla tells the Hindu. "This is a blatant misuse of power." Vishwas was suspended from his position on Friday. It also appears that the phone was found, but Vishwas' efforts were in vain—ABC reports the phone no longer worked after being submerged for three days. (More India stories.)

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