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January 30, 2011

Page: 42/43

Home > 2011 Issues > January 30, 2011


LDF government blamed for Sabarimala tragedy. 102 pilgrims died in stampede

By S Chandrasekhar

102 Ayyappa bhaktas were trampled to death in a stampede caused by a auto-jeep collision at Pulmedu, near Sabarimala at 8.30 p.m. on January 14. Lakhs of people had congregated in all the areas and hills surrounding the forest temple of Lord Ayyappa to witness Makara Jyoti (holy fire) which appears on ‘Ponnambalamedu’.

The ritual of State mourning, visits by Chief Minister, ministers, announcement of judicial probe, compensation of 5 lakh and 1 lakh by State and Centre followed. A comic interlude by Rahul Gandhi, who was holidaying at a resort in Alapuzha, announcing his helicopter trip to the accident side and later not proceeding, was also there.

But the basic fact remains that despite five crore visiting Sabarimala, every year, from November 14th to January 14th and the crowd increasing by an estimated 20 per cent every year, the infrastructure and amenities are 30 years back and shameful. Both the CPM and the Congress which have ruled the State from 1956 alternatively have ignored Sabarimala. Their eyes are only on the income generated by the temple and State coffers and they care a tuppence for providing amenities and basic human needs for the crores visiting, from all parts of the world.

An average of 08-10 lakh people visit the hill temple, everyday, of the 60 day long period. Almost twice the entire population of Kerala visited the temple this year, i.e. 6 crore. Since the traditional Pampa, Erumeli route is over- crowded and people are held in traffic blocks for 7-8 hours, police blocks from Pampa to Temple for 7-8 hours and at the temple for 3 to 4 hours, many pilgrims coming from Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka take the Kumily-Uppupara-Pulmedu route (Forest area coming under protected Tiger Reserve area and close to Thekkady). This is just 7 km from Sabarimala and viewing the ‘Makara Joyti’ is also convenient.

Pulmedu is a protected forest area abounding in wild animals like boars, tigers and wild elephants. Forest staff and unscrupulous jeep/auto drivers often collide and take huge amounts from the poor pilgrims and let them through this route. Local traders are also hand-in glove. The trader-vehicle operator-forest staff mafia is a deadly trio fleecing crores of Ayyappa bhaktas. Despite Pulmedu route being hazardous and insecure, the CPM/Congress regimes have made no effort to secure the route or electrify it. 102 persons died in stampede owing to pitch darkness and lack of police force. For the 5 lakh pilgrims who were at Pulmedu, there were just 9 police men. Despite accident happening at 8.30 p.m, the first help came at 1a.m, the next day. The hundreds who were badly injured due to the trampling were writhing in pain without medical aid or water.

Over the past 30 years, the number of pilgrims to Sabarimala has increased from 10-15- lakh to 05-06-crore. It has become a milking cow for the State-temple board-traders and vehicle operators mafia. Sabarimala contributes minimum of 25,000 crore to Kerala’s economy in 60 days. An amount much higher than State budget. The temple board has to pay heavily for the power and police force deployed. Even State buses charge extra from the pilgrims. Despite Kerala being a 100 per cent consumer State and all food items being imported from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the pilgrims coming from these states are heavily fleeced. For example, an Idli which costs 5-6 rupees is being charged 20-25 rupees at Sabarimala.

Added to this is the threat from Christian /Islamic groups. In 1952 Christians triggered an explosion killing 66 bhaktas and almost destroying the temple. In the 80’s they tried to build a church at Nilakkel. The area is always under jehadi scanner and two years back, NDF attacked pilgrim buses and wanted SIMI/NDF/Lashkar men were arrested, near the temple. The sex-scandal surrounding Temple Tantri and claim of a Christian convert Kannada actress Jayamala, that she entered the ‘Garbha-Griha’ is part of Christian strategy to tarnish Sabarimala, just as the Christianisation moves in Tirupati.

Visiting the accident site along with Hindu leaders, VHP leader Kummannam Rajasekharan, who has been in the fore front, for three decades, fighting for Ayyappa’s amenities said criminal and callous attitudes of both the CPM and the Congress, is the basic reason for this mass murder.

"Posting 2,000 policemen for managing a crowd of 5-6 crore is the height of idiocy and inviting tragedy. It is due to the blessing of Ayyappa and bhakti of the devotees that major accidents are not taking place. Pilgrims are bearing the police atrocities including beatings, substandard food by hoteliers, fleecing by vehicle operators, substandard ‘prasad’ by temple and hours long queue to have darshan of Ayyappa."

"The Hindu organisations like RSS, VHP, Ayyappa Seva Sangh who are doing extensive services have on several times, given various recommendations to the governments which are listed below:

  1. The 100 kms radius around the temple should be made into a security zone with scientific crowd management measures. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Police and Central forces should be involved in the security zone.

  2. Scientific disaster management should be there. Even though 500 CRPF personnel trained in disaster management were in Sabarimala, just 7 kms away, they were not informed. Disaster management groups should be deployed in all areas.

  3. Basic amenities like toilet, bathrooms, food, resting places, etc. should be provided in the entire zone. Government, Temple board, NGOs, voluntary organisations should be involved.

  4. Fool proof administration with creative and long term vision should be there 24 x 7 for 365 days. The Justice Chandrasekhar Menon Commission had even mooted participation by Hindu organisations.

  5. Construction of pucca(concrete) queue complexes with all amenities, developmental works, sanitation, implementation of the Pampa River Action Plan, Master Plan should all be done simultaneously along with road infrastructure. The Government should allot at least 500 crore for Sabarimala development in every budget.

  6. Finally Sabarimala should be declared a National Pilgrim Centre.

The NSS and SNDP have also blamed the CPM regime for this mass murder. RSS and Seva Bharati did exemplarity service in removing the dead bodies, tending to the injured, provided all services to the families and sending the bodies to their respective states and homes.

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