Kerala temple blaze: HC imposes conditional ban on fireworks in temples

  • Ramesh Babu, Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
  • Updated: Apr 13, 2016 16:25 IST
Footwear of the devotees lie scattered inside the Puttingal temple compound where a massive fire broke out during a fireworks display on Sunday. (AP)

The Kerala high court banned on Tuesday high-decibel fireworks at night and sought the state government’s opinion on handing over to the CBI the probe into a devastating fire that killed 113 people at a temple complex in Kollam.

An unauthorised fireworks display at the century-old Puttingal temple – around 70 km from capital Thiruvananthapuram – early on Sunday sparked a blaze in the complex packed with 10,000-odd devotees, leaving 113 dead and more than 300 injured.

Treating a letter by one of its judges on the incident as a PIL, a two-member bench of the court also came down heavily on police observing that strict action should be taken against errant officials.

“Police along with the temple administration committee were responsible for the disaster. Why homicide charges can’t be slapped against them also?” the court asked.

Read more | Banned chemicals used, norms violated: Official on Kerala temple fire

Since police laxity was quite visible it was appropriate to engage a central agency, the court said and asked the state government to file its opinion by Thursday.

The court asked whether there was any involvement of “anti-nationals” in the tragedy as the area is close to the sea. The court also directed police and other authorities to strictly enforce compliance of provisions of the explosive act to prevent such tragedies.

Earlier court directives on fireworks displays at temples and storing of dangerous pyrotechnic material were often broken in the state where temples are managed by rich and powerful trusts.

Kollam district collector M Shainamol told the court that the temple was denied permission for the fireworks and blamed the police for not enforcing the ban.

In the letter that was turned into a PIL, justice V Chitambaresh said, “The time is more than ripe for immediate judicial intervention to stop such man-made tragedies by banning the use of high decibel explosive fire crackers.”

Soon after the HC order, the Pathanamthitta district administration banned offerings of firecrackers at the famous Sabarimala hill shrine, visited by nearly 100 million devotees every year.

The state government also called an all-party meet on Thursday to discuss ways to control fireworks and display of caparisoned elephants, many of which had run amok earlier leading to death of many people over the years.

“This is a major policy decision, we will take a proper decision after the deliberations of that meeting,” chief minister Oommen Chandy said.

Read more | Kerala fire: Puttingal temple trust president, six others surrender

Meanwhile, the main contractor of the fireworks, Surendran, succumbed to his injuries taking the toll to 113. The health department started collecting blood samples of relatives to identify 14 unclaimed bodies.

Police have arrested seven people including members of the trust that runs the temple. They had fled after the incident but surrendered to police early on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, police raided factories making firecrackers without government licenses in and seized 100 kilograms of explosives from a warehouse in the town of Attingal near the temple site.

(With inputs from agencies)

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