For a state that has failed to act on recommendations of a panel that probed a similar tragedy in 1999, the government was prompt in announcing a judicial inquiry into the Sabarimala stampede on Friday that left more than 100 pilgrims dead. Is this just another way to drain the taxpayer’s money? One can’t help but wonder.
In January 1999, 54 pilgrims were killed in a stampede on the foothills of the shrine, which is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa.
The Justice Chandrasekhara Menon Committee that probed the tragedy had recommended alternative routes to the hill shrine to check recurring mishaps. But the report is probably lying neglected in some dilapidated cupboard in a government office.
The criminal apathy on the part of the government and temple authorities was there for everyone to see — not a single bulb at a place where more than 200,000 pilgrims converge and just a dozen hapless cops to manage them. And then the insensitive chief minister says, “We weren’t intimated about the tragedy in advance.”
Millions of pilgrims gather at the Pulumedu hillock every year to witness the Makara Jyothi, which is believed to be a celestial light that appears on the eastern horizon.
Devotees also offer cash, precious metals and jewels to the deity. This year, the Travancore Devasom Board, which manages the shrine, has already collected Rs132 crore.
But till 2008, the plight of the employees here was pathetic. Hindustan Times had carried a front-page story in 2008
about the plight of employees counting donations in the shrine’s strong rooms.
These employees were not allowed to wear underwear fearing they would stash money in them.
What beckons Sabarimala, which has already witnessed three major disasters in 1954, 1999 and 2011, is an effective crowd management system and better amenities for pilgrims. Else Sabarimala will remain a ticking bomb waiting to explode again.
Muslim devotee among dead
A Muslim devotee was among those killed in one of the most horrific pilgrim disasters in the last decade.
Many Saba (24), part of a 20-member group from Karwar in Karnataka, had undertaken a nearly two month strict traditional penance to undertake the trip to the hill shrine of Ayyappa. After witnessing ‘Makarajyoti’ the group, which had a seventh standard student and six ‘Kanni swamis (devotees who go to Sabarimala for the first time) got dispersed. Finally, they spotted everyone except Saba, said Vijesh Shetty.