Kerala temple fire tragic example of how indifference can prove fatal

  • Pushpa Girimaji, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 11, 2016 12:09 IST
The fireworks explosion at the Kollam temple in Kerala is another tragic example of how indifference to safety can lead to casualties. (Sarath Sreekanteswaram/HT Photo)

The fireworks explosion at the Kollam temple in Kerala is another tragic example of how indifference to safety can lead to casualties.

Whether it was the Dabwali school fire tragedy in 1995, the Uphaar cinema fire in 1997, the Kumbakonam school fire in 2004, the Meerut consumer exhibition fire in 2006 or the AMRI hospital fire in 2011, each one of them showed us the consequence of violation of safety laws. In each of these mishaps, hundreds of innocent people paid the price for the negligence and irresponsibility by a few.

I see the same pattern in the raging fire at the Puttingal temple, Kollam, that has left over 100 dead and more than 300 injured. And like the earlier ones, this too could have easily been prevented, if only the temple authorities had bothered about the safety of the devotees who went there.

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Preliminary reports suggest the death and the devastation was caused by sparks from the fireworks display falling on the pyrotechnic devices stored at the temple premises. Can there be anything more imprudent, careless than this? It is incomprehensible as to how anyone could store firecrackers in such a casual manner, when there was such a big fireworks display at the temple premises? To say the least, this smacks of utter and total disregard for the safety of all those who came to witness the fireworks.

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Even if there was no fireworks display, storing firecrackers in a public place is fraught with danger. We see almost every year, major fires leading to deaths and injuries caused by firecrackers stored in godowns of firecracker manufacturing units, in shops selling firecrackers and even in vehicles transporting firecrackers.

In March last year in Delhi, firecrackers being carried for a wedding celebration in a car had led to a major fire in the car. Four children, listening to music in the stationary car were charred to death when a short circuit ignited the firecrackers kept in the car. Earlier, a cyclist carrying firecrackers on his cycle had died, when a spark from fireworks on the roadside had fallen on his package, resulting in an explosion.

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It’s for this reason that the Explosives Rules as well as orders passed by the police specify safety precautions for storing, display and sale of firecrackers.

These crackers are not toys, they are explosives. And forget laws and regulations, even commonsense demands that they be never stored in a public place and nowhere close to the vicinity of fireworks display. Whoever is responsible for the storage of the firecrackers need to be dealt with severely.

In fact the pictures of some of the firecrackers seen on the television were quite frightening. Did the temple have permission to store them there? What was the quantity stored? What was the nature of these devices? How many laws were violated? Already, the reports are saying that the temple had been denied permission for competitive fireworks display. If so, was this display allowed by the administration? We need to have answers to all these .

The tragedy should open up a debate on whether we should allow such firecracker display at all? I saw on YouTube some of the display and the quantity of firecrackers being burnt . Besides the noise, the pollutants being released by these firecrackers into the atmosphere are alarming. Also, obviously there are people living in the vicinity of the temple and I heard some of them complain about the noise and the air pollution that they suffer from these firework displays.

So keeping in mind the safety and the health issues involved, we need to seriously contemplate the utility of such displays — not just here but everywhere in the country. After all, safety should get precedence over everything else.

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