Sunday’s tragedy at the Puttingal Devi temple in Kollam is the reason why Pankajakshi Amma, an NRI living close to the temple, has been constantly asking authorities for a ban on fireworks display.
At least 110 people were killed and 300-odd injured in a major fire that broke out during a fireworks display in the temple precincts on Sunday.
Preliminary inquiries by the police revealed that sparks from one of the lit fireworks spread to a storehouse adjoining the temple, where a large cache of explosives was stocked, resulting in a massive blast. Locals say the impact of the explosion was felt within 1km radius of the temple.
Pankajakshi’s house, located 50 metres away from the temple, was also damaged in the explosion that even knocked down a portion of a one-storeyed concrete building.
Shocked at the extent of loss of life and damage to property, Pankajakshi said she will continue her fight and resort to legal steps to ensure a total ban on fireworks display.
Since constructing her house in the area four years ago, the octogenarian has been facing trouble with the annual fireworks display. This year, she approached the district administration requesting a ban on it, following which the Kollam Collector denied permission to the Puttingal Devi temple authorities.
“We were often ostracised for speaking up against the fireworks. Nobody realised that they were sitting on a powder keg,” said Pankajakshi.
Her son-in-law Prakash alleged that temple management even threatened the family when the complaint was filed with the district authorities.
“The house was built four years ago. In the first year itself, the building was damaged and doors had been broken in the fireworks display,” he said.
Revenue officials had apparently visited the family to verify the complaint and informed them that there was a stay on the display, but it was later held, Prakash said.
“We used to move away from the house during the time of the fireworks display every year. This time also, we were not at the house and we were staying at another house, owned by us,” he said.
Kerala director general of police, TP Senkumar said five people were detained in connection with the disaster, and were on the lookout for officials from the temple.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the injured on Sunday, and sought a detailed report from the state administration on how the accident took place. He also announced Rs 2 lakh compensation for families of the deceased.
Aside from civic authorities, national services like the navy, Rapid Action Force and air force were pressed into action to help with the rescue operations.