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'Unlicensed entry of vehicles a cause for tragedy'

india Updated: Jan 15, 2011 19:21 IST

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Lack of basic amenities like lighting, water supply and camping facilities coupled with insufficient deployment of police are some of the factors that contributed to the stampade that claimed 102 lives at Pullumedu on Friday night.

The large number of mini vehicles like jeeps and autorikshaws plying on the trekking route, part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, without permission or control also proved fatal, according to forest department sources.

Though the Pullumedu route has been used by pilgrims from Tamil Nadu for long, that area had never been sufficiently covered by security and crowd management plans of Sabarimala pilgrimage.

On days of heavy rush, the entire focus of forces including police and NDRF tended to shift to the Sannidhanam-Pampa route, through which over 90% of the pilgrims pass. Accoring to sources, the forest authorities had brought these lapses to the notice of the higher ups during the review meetings attended by senior police and government officials and even ministers.

Officials claimed that the police had also been warned about vehicles entering the Reserve Forest Region. Allowing vehicles to this part is illegal, not only during the pilgrim season, but htroughout the year as it posed a threat to the fragile eco system of the area, sources said.

"We have even suggested bringing regulation for trekking by pilgrims along the seven km path unless and until basic facilties are provided in the area", a forest official said.

On Friday, when the incident occurred, only a few members of the Forest Protection Councils and about 30 police personnel from the local police station were present to manage the unexpectedly high iflow of pilgrims, sources said. A forest official, who did not want to identified, said they had asked police to strictly regulate vehicles going to Pullmedu beyond the Kumali check post.