Serious security lapses in handling of explosives led to the fire disaster at Puttingal temple in Kollam, Kerala, on Sunday, Chief Controller of Explosives said in a report submitted to the government of India.
Explosive chemicals exceeding the norms in intensity, quantity and size were used to raise the decibels, the report said.
The festival organizers ignored the basic rule that the shed for storing fireworks should be located at least 100 meters away from the display site.
The Explosives Act clearly mentions the size of the rockets (‘amittu’) that burst into colourful patterns as they progress through the sky from one stage to another. But the seize of the rockets used at Puttingal was almost 10 times above the prescribed limits.
The standard size of the iron barrels used for launching the rockets is 8-10-12. Nearly half of the long barrels should be below the ground and be firmly fixed by tying them with iron rods used in concrete.
These rules were not followed at Puttingal. In fact, a barrel tilted during the rocket launch and, instead of going up, it went straight into the shed where a huge pile of fireworks was stored.
As per the rules, fireworks are not allowed after 11 pm. Lighting was poor on the temple premises and security measures were also pathetic. Security agencies failed in formulating a disaster management plan. No security barricades were in place to keep the crowd at a safe distance.
Ban on high-decibel crackers
The Kerala High Court Tuesday banned the use of high-decibel crackers and fireworks display after sunset in places of worship across the state in the wake of the temple fire tragedy in Kollam that has claimed 111 lives.
The court asked the state government to examine whether a CBI probe is necessary into the Paravur Puttingal Devi temple fireworks tragedy on Sunday.
Treating a judge’s letter seeking a ban as a PIL, the bench of Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Justice Anu Sivaraman banned the use of sound-generating fireworks between sunset and sunrise across places of worship.
It said that during day time, the sound of explosives should not exceed 140 decibels.
The judges said colours and light performance without making sound may be permitted in festivals at night.
The court directed police and other authorities to enforce compliance of the provisions of Explosives Act and Rules to prevent such man-made disasters.
It expressed anguish over police incorporating lighter provisions of law with regard to offences against the accused in the Kollam accident and asked why the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder was not applied against them.
As a word of caution, the High Court asked whether there was involvement of anti-nationals in the Sunday tragedy as the area is surrounded by high seas.
The hearing was on the letter written by Justice V Chitambaresh, a judge of the same court, who had demanded an immediate ban on fireworks display across places of worship in the state.
‘No competition fireworks’
Seven absconding temple authorities, who surrendered late on Monday, told police that the fireworks display at Puttingal was not based on a competition.
They said they had plans to hold a contest but dropped it as there was no official clearance for its conduct.
Police continued questioning them. After recording their statements, the seven will be produced before a court in Kollam.
Police are still looking for eight more temple board members and associates of firework contractors for possible charges of attempted murder and culpable homicide, both punishable by life imprisonment, and for illegally storing a cache of explosives.
Besides the seven arrested, six more people have been taken in custody, a crime branch officer said.
In the meantime, death toll in the fire tragedy went up to 111 with two more people succumbing to injuries on Tuesday. Among them was fireworks contractor Surendran of Kazhakuttom. He had suffered 60% burns and was undergoing treatment in the intensive care unit of a local hospital.
The other casualty was Sathyan, 55, also of Kazhakuttom. Put on ventilator support, he died from a massive heart attack.