Police in Kerala launched a search operation to arrest officials of a temple where an unauthorised fireworks display killed more than 100 people early on Sunday.
The officials went missing soon after police registered a case of culpable homicide against them.
A case was also registered against the father-son duo of Surendran and Umesh, who had organised the fireworks display.
Both are being treated at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital.
The fire started when a spark ignited a separate batch of fireworks that was stored at the Puttingal temple complex in Paravur village, a few hours north of state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, said chief minister Oommen Chandy.
Thousands were packed into the temple complex when a big explosion erupted around 3:10am, officials said. The blaze then spread quickly through the temple, trapping devotees within.
“The district collector and the SP (superintendent of police) had denied permission to fireworks. But some temple officials...made statements that this year’s display will beat the earlier ones. This attitude may have compelled them to flout norms,” a police officer said.
“We have got some clues about Jayalal, the missing president of the temple,” said the officer.
The temple organises an annual fireworks display competition, with different groups putting on successive light shows for thousands of devotees gathered for the last day of a seven-day festival honouring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.
“The fireworks display attracts a lot of people. When the incident took place, there were about 15,000 people,” said a devotee who suffered injuries in a stampede after the tragedy.
The office of Kollam district collector A Shainamol reiterated no permission was granted to conduct the fireworks display.
Kollam City police commissioner P Prakash said they did not give any permission either.
But residents said though a ban was imposed on the complaint of one Pankajakshi, it was lifted later in the night following a ‘mutual agreement’.