Vandiperiyar (Kerala): The accident site was still strewn with victims' belongings and offerings to Lord Ayyappa Sunday as police began its probe into the stampede near Kerala's Sabarimala temple that claimed 102 lives. Quashing reports of inadequate security, police insisted that 279 personnel were deployed in the area.
The Crime Branch led by Superintendent of Police S Surendran reached the accident spot Sunday morning, beginning investigations into the cause of the accident Friday night at Pulumedu near Vandiperiyar town where about a lakh of pilgrims had gathered to watch the revered Makara Jyothi light on the Sabarimala hills.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who was to visit the accident spot, cancelled his trip due to bad weather.
"He was supposed to come by helicopter from Kochi, but due to rain and bad weather, the visit was cancelled because no one wanted to take the risk of landing the helicopter. He has since gone back to Delhi from Kochi," a Congress leader said.
The state police department said there were 97 policemen under the charge of a deputy superintendent of police in Pulumedu alone while a senior official said as many as 279 personnel were deployed "in and around" the area.
"There were 279 police officials in and around various places of Pulumedu. I saw the deployment plan that was prepared by the local superintendent of police. The inquiry has begun to find out what the real cause of the accident was," Additional Director General of Police A Hemachandran said to a news agency.
Hemachandran said he had checked out the detailed plan of action prepared by police with regard to security.
The stampede occurred around 8 pm Friday when the pilgrims were returning after watching the celestial Makara Jyothi light, the most important event of the two-month pilgrimage, from a hillock some 30 km from the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa.
Congress MP PT Thomas had first raised the issue of police not providing a proper security cordon at the accident site where over a lakh pilgrims gather to see the celestial light.
"We had raised the issue of providing adequate security cover at Pulumedu at the review meeting held to discuss the pilgrimage amenities to be provided last year. But to the best of my knowledge at the crucial day, only a handful policemen were there and this is a crucial lapse," Thomas said to a news agency.
While the blame game continued, 12 unidentified bodies were sent to the Kottayam Medical College hospital to be kept in the mortuary, while the rest of the bodies have been handed over to their relatives.
Around 60 people were injured in the incident.
First Published: Sunday, January 16, 2011, 21:51