Kerala blaze: Locals accuse temple officials of using political clout

  • Ramesh Babu, Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
  • Updated: Apr 11, 2016 15:07 IST
Relative try to identify the deceased outside a mortuary in Kollam. The death toll from the April 10 tragedy at the Puttingal temple complex rose to 112. (Sivaram/Reuters)

The Paravur Devi temple in Kerala where a banned fireworks display went out of hand, leading to the deaths of 112 people, was denied permission by the Kollam district administration and state fire department. So how did temple authorities expect to get away with such a loud and clear violation?

Locals blame the impunity on political patronage in the issue. Accusing that some temple officials used their connections with the ruling party to override complaints raised, locals said these officials even forced law-enforcement agencies to turn a blind eye on some occasions.

Read more | Kerala fire: Against fireworks ban, says board managing 1,255 temples

Pankajaskhi Amma, an NRI whose house was damaged in Sunday’s disaster, claimed she was threatened by temple authorities for petitioning the district collector to rein in the fireworks display. Miscreants had allegedly thrown stones at her house a day before the tragedy.

“Some of the temple officials threatened to burst fireworks in my house if I complained in future,” she said as she checked a portion of her house that had caved in due to the explosion. Every year, Pankajakshi’s house that is located close to the temple, develops cracks and a few lose panes when the fireworks go off. Given her protests over the four years she’s lived there, temple officials promised to repair the damages, but never delivered.

Read more | Kerala tragedy: Families search for loved ones in morgues, hospitals

Police are on the lookout for office-bearers of the temple administration who went missing after a case was registered against them. A case was also registered against the main contractor of the event, Kazakootam Surendran who was among the injured and is battling for his life in a Thirvananthapuram hospital.

“The display for which permission was denied by the district administration, was held with the permission of police because of interference at a higher level,” alleged CPI(M) state secretary, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

Several police and fire personnel were also among the injured as a large company was dispatched during the show. One on-duty policeman was among the dead.

“We denied permission. The police should have enforced it strictly. It seems some temple officials gave a wrong impression to them that an oral permission was given to the display. It is absolutely wrong,” district collector A Shainamol said, adding that if the ban had been imposed properly, the tragedy could have been averted.

Read more | Smoke after blaze: Kerala temples, churches to skip fireworks

Competitive fireworks displays are a common practice during big religious festivals like the Thrissur Pooram, with each temple vying for a louder and longer display of pyrotechnics. The tragedy on April 10 occurred during a similar competitive showcase.

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