Sabarimala stampede: Govt, temple board draw flak for neglect of reports

Last Updated: Sunday, January 16, 2011 - 13:24

Thiruvananthapuram: As Kerala is slowly recovering
from the shock of the Sabarimala stampede tragedy that claimed
102 lives, the state government and the temple board are
facing criticism for neglect of the report of the panel that
probed the 1998 mishap and the proposals for developing
alternate routes to check disasters recurring at the
hillshrine.

The opposition parties and the Hindu outfits today alleged
that the Pullumedu disaster could have been avoided if the
recommendations of the judicial probe into the 1998 tragedy
have been implemented in right earnest.

On January 14, 1998, 52 pilgrims, mostly from Andhra Pradesh,
were killed in a stampede at Pampa,the river-bank base camp
on the foothills of Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple.

Justice Chandrasekhara Menon, who probed the tragedy, in his
report had suggested the need to provide basic amenities on
the Pullumedu route, through which a large number of pilgrims
from Tamil Nadu pass up and down the shrine.

The report had pointed out that over 60 per cent of devotees
coming to Sabarimala during the pilgrimage season are from
other states and this route provide them easy access to temple
towns like Madurai on their return journey.

The panel also made a strong case for developing Vandiperiyar
route through which at least 40 per cent of pilgrims could be
diverted to avoid huge rush and latent dangers along the Pampa
route.

However, the report had made it clear without assuring basic
facilities and security pilgrims should not be allowed to trek
through the Pullumedu route.

According VHP state general secretary Kummanam Rajasekharan
the Government and the Travancore Deveswom Board (TDB) had
been sleeping on the commission report all these years.

"The announcement of a judicial probe into yesterday`s
tragedy by Chief Minister is only a ritual. What is the use
of such probes if the proposals made by the earlier one is
totally neglected", Rajasekharan said.

Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Oommen
Chandy held that the government did not start the work on
a transit camp even though the land for such a facility
had been identified five years back by the then UDF
Government. However, the report had made it clear that without
assuring basic facilities and security, pilgrims should not be
allowed to trek through the Pullumedu route.

It suggested that only after creating facilities like
resting places, vehicle parking, toilets, small eateries and
shops and proper lighting the devotees be allowed to pass
through the route.

The report also wanted the trekking path along the
Pullumedu route to be widened at least by 4 meters and iron
railing to be erected on either side.

The report suggested that improvement of facilities
should be in tune with Sabarimala Master Plan.

All the panels that looked into problems of the
hillshrine, surrounded by a dense forest, had suggested that
the plans should be of long-term perspective taking into
account the requirements at least for the next 25 years.

However, critics say that the master plan is virtually
in cold storage and the TDB, which manages the shrine, is
interested in putting up concrete structures in and around the
temple, which neither serve the devotees nor environmentally
feasible.

According to Hindu outfits, the government also turned
a blind eye to intelligence reports suggesting deployment of
more police contingents for crowd control and security along
Pullumedu route through which the pilgrim flow has been
increasing every year.

Both the UDF and LDF that ruled the state alternately
did not bother to carry out these proposals, the VHP leader
said.

Reacting to the criticism, officials said that the
government had constraints in developing Sabarimala like any
other major temple sites as the shrine is located in an
ecologically sensitive spot in the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

A senior official, who did not wish to be identified,
said the government was faing difficulty in developing the
Pullumedu route as it might harm the environment .

Once the route is developed it would become difficult
to check flow of vehicles and human interference.

Pullumedu mostly comprises grasslands on the steps of
the Western Ghats, a conducive habitat for tigers and
leopards.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, January 16, 2011 - 13:24

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