Kerala temple tragedy: Toll rises to 109, six booked; at least 100 kg explosives seized in crackdown

Gross violation of norms and use of banned chemicals led to the Puttingal tragedy, a top explosives official said on Monday.

PTI| Last Updated: Apr 12, 2016, 00:05 AM IST
Kerala temple tragedy: Toll rises to 109, six booked; at least 100 kg explosives seized in crackdown
Footwear of devotees lie scattered inside the temple compound where a massive fire broke out during a fireworks display at the Puttingal temple complex in Paravoor village, Kollam district, Kerala.

Kollam: Gross violation of norms and use of banned chemicals led to the Puttingal tragedy, a top explosives official said on Monday as a case of attempt to murder was filed against six persons including temple officials while the Kerala High Court will hear tomorrow the plea for a ban on cracker bursting and fireworks display in temple functions.

Tales of horror continued to pour in as the death toll in fireworks display in Puttingal Devi temple early yesterday morning that went awry rose to 109 while more than 300 people were being treated for injuries.

A case has been registered against six persons, including members of temple managing committee under Section 307 of eh IPC (attempt to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) of IPC and under section 4 of Explosives Substances Act.

Besides the members of the temple managing committee, case was also registered against assistants of contractors who held the 'competitive' pyrotechnic display, despite a ban on it by the district administration.

A crime branch probe also began today into the fireworks tragedy.

Sudarshan Kamal, Chief Controller of Explosives, Nagpur, deputed by the Centre to take stock of the situation, told reporters after a visit to the site today that there were gross violations of norms and basic precautions and a ban order were ignored.

"There seems to have been a gross violation of explosives norms", said Kamal, who in charge of monitoring use, storage and licensing of explosives.
"We have come here for investigation on the explosives used for the display", he said, adding banned chemicals were used by the suppliers, who manufactured the crackers and conducted the display.

"Basic precautions had been ignored", he said. 

 

Meanwhile, at least 100 kg of explosive materials have been seized from a storehouse at nearby Attingal, police said.

Besides two cars with some raw materials used for crackers were also recovered by police.

Earlier, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages about 1,255 temples in the state, said it was not for a complete ban on such fireworks displays.

TDB President Prayar Gopalakrishnan said the board was against banning pyrotechnics during temple festivals as they were part of rituals, but added they should be staged as per restrictions of government and court orders with sufficient safety measures.

As gross 'violation' of rules in the fireworks display came to the fore, none of the 15-member managing committee of the temple, run by a private trust, reacted so far to the deadly mishap. A senior official said they were "absconding".

 

While the police in its first report stated permission should not be granted, two days later on Apr 8 they changed their stand and this was 'mysterious', she said.

The local people, who are yet to recover from the shock, are slowly preparing to bid adieu to their near ones who perished in the accident.
Bodies which have been identified are being handed over to relatives, officials said.

Poignant scenes were witnessed in hospitals, including the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital (TMCH), where inconsolable relatives were waiting to receive the bodies.

Eight injured persons, who had been under treatment at local hospitals in Kollam, were brought to TMCH early today, health department officials said.

A total of 66 victims, including six women, are undergoing treatment in the ICUs and wards at the TMCH they said, adding that a number of persons were also under observation.

Relatives and friends gathered at the mortuary to receive bodies of their near ones, said they were yet to come to terms with the shock inflicted on them by the unexpected tragedy.

Soman, a 68-year-old daily wage labour, broke into tears when he received the body of his nephew Vinod Kumar, who succumbed to serious injuries suffered in the mishap.

Amid conflicting reports on how the fireworks display was held despite the ban, Kollam District Collector A Shainamol claimed she had denied permission for the fireworks display and said there was no pressure on her to grant or deny permission for this.

"We had issued clear directions to police to ensure that the fireworks programme is not held. I just did my job. There was no pressure on me. Granting or denying permission requires certain procedures. We have sought reports from the police and tehsildhar", she said.

"They have recommended that no permission should be given for the fireworks because of the competitive nature and lack of space among others. But somebody has gone ahead and done this and I have asked this to be investigated", she said.

"Police has to implement the orders of the District Collector and I have asked the Kollam Commissioner for an explanation," Shainmol said.

Additional District Magistrate of Kollam Shanawaz said that the ban order had been violated and it has to be verified who had violated it.

Meanwhile, Justice V Chitambaresh, a judge of the Kerala High Court, moved the court seeking an immediate ban on use of high-decibel explosive crackers in all Kerala temples.

"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," he said adding his letter could be considered as a PIL.

The 'Devaswom Bench' of the court, which deals with matters related to temples, comprising Justices Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Anu Sivaraman is likely to consider the matter tomorrow.

Officials of the Crime Branch and personnel from the office of Chief Controller of Explosives collected evidence from the accident spot, situated about 70 km from Thiruvananthapuram.

The toll rose to 109 with three persons succumbing to their injuries while around 300 were still under treatment at various hospitals for burns and other injuries, a release from the Chief Minister's Officer said.

The condition of seven persons admitted to the Medical College Hospital here was serious, state Health Minister VS Sivakumar said.

The accident occurred at the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi Temple complex during an unauthorised display of fireworks early yesterday morning after a spark from a firecracker fell on the storehouse containing crackers, triggering explosions.

Of the deceased, 14 were yet to be identified as the charred bodies made the task difficult, official sources said.