As the death toll in the Kollam temple fire in India climbed to 109, District Collector A Shainamol blasted the city police for negligence.
“No permission was granted to conduct any kind of fireworks,” Shainamol said.
In a report on April 6, police had made it clear that due to space constraints, the fireworks competition should not be held on the Puttingal temple premises on Sunday.
Accordingly, the district administration imposed a ban on the fireworks.
But in another report on April 9, police changed the plate and said there was nothing wrong in conducting the event.
Since the second report did not explain how the situation abruptly changed, the administration decided to go ahead with the ban, the collector said.
An explanation has been sought from police on why they changed the report in just two days, she said.
Kollam City Police Commissioner P Prakash’s remark that they had been misled by temple authorities on sanction for fireworks is immature, the collector said.
Police, on their part, did not give any explanation to the collector, probably thinking that instead of washing the dirty linen in public, they will better talk about the matter at the appropriate time before former judge N Krishnan Nair who heads the judicial inquiry.
In another development, local media said they are in possession of copy of a leaked letter from Chattannur ACP to Kollam city police commissioner which has recommended the conduct of fireworks at the temple grounds. It is presumed that police might have changed the report based on the recommendations made by the ACP.
5 temple authorities surrender; 3 cars with explosives seized
In a late night development, five Puttingal temple authorities, who were absconding after the fire and wanted by police, surrendered before the crime branch. They were temple board president P.S. Jayalal, secretary J. Krishnankutty Pillai, and members Ravindran Pillai, Rajendran Pillai and Shivaprasad.
Police have registered a case against them as well as explosive licensees under section 307 (Attempt to murder), and 308 (Attempt to commit culpable homicide) of the Indian Penal Code and under section 4 of the Explosives Substances Act.
They also secured three abandoned cars with explosives from near the accident spot. Owners of the cars were identified as SS Thushara, Surendran KL and Stalin Almeida. Raids were conducted at various places in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam.
Death toll rises to 109
The death toll in the fire tragedy has risen to 109 with three more people succumbing to injuries.
The condition of over 300 people being treated for injuries due to burns or debris fall in Kollam and Thiruvanathapuram hospitals continues to be grave, hospitals sources said. Many of them are having 60% burns.
Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised on Sunday to shift some of the patients to top hospitals in Mumbai and Delhi, the condition of many patients is such that it is risky to shift them, doctors said.
Private hospitals don’t spare victims
Although the Kerala government had assured private hospitals that their bills will be quickly cleared, the hospitals are still demanding money from the injured victims. Some hospitals have asked them as much as Rs70,000 ($1,054).
The local lawmaker has filed a complaint against the hospitals with the district collector.
Health Minister V.S. Shiv Kumar said two deputy collectors have been assigned the job of clearing the medical bills adding that the money taken away by private hospitals will be returned to the injured victims.
High Court to intervene
Temples cannot impose a complete ban on fireworks during festivals although they can exercise restraint as per suggestions from courts and government authorities, the Travancore temple board president P Gopalakrishnan said.
However, the Kerala High Court seems to be moving towards a ban on fireworks. In a letter to High Court registrar on Monday, Justice V Chidambaresh sought total ban on fireworks after the latest disaster at Kollam. He said the letter may be treated as a public interest litigation.
In his letter, Chidambaresh said the Kollam fire tragedy cannot be seen as an isolated case. He said the state has already witnessed more than 500 deaths in similar festivals and celebrations. Organizers of such pyrotechnic shows often violate existing laws including the Explosives Act and the standard operating procedure.
Extremely powerful explosives that pose a threat to man’s right to live should be banned during festivals, he wrote. The petition will be heard on Tuesday afternoon.
Search for the missing
People are still coming to the blast site in search of their dear and near ones.
A man who reached the temple precincts on Monday morning said he had come to watch the festivities along with four of his friends, two of whom are still missing.
“I went to all hospitals in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram where the injured are being treated. They are not there”, the man, who also suffered minor injuries, said.
“There are some unidentified bodies in a badly mutilated state, for which DNA tests will have to be done to ascertain their identity. I hope my friends are not among them,” he said.
Sunday’s temple fire started when a spark from a fireworks show ignited a huge pile of fireworks stored at a shed in Puttingal temple complex.
4 tons of gunpowder allowed for ‘mother of fireworks’
There are no plans to abandon the fireworks of Thrissur ‘pooram’ (festival) that takes place in the wee hours of April 18. The intensity of the blast will be lessened and focus will be more on colorful patterns that the explosives weave on the night sky, festival panel of the two competing groups — Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady — decided at a joint meeting held on Monday.
Up to 2,000 kg of gunpowder could be used by each side (totally 4 tons). If the teams try to smuggle in more than the stipulated quantity to the Thekkinkadu temple grounds, they may be seized by police, the panel members said.
Competition fireworks and involvement of elephants in festivals are creating problems in Kerala, G Sukumaran Nair, leader of a Hindu community group, Nair Service Society, said. While temple traditions are to be followed, fireworks and elephant participation in festivals should be accident-free, he said.
To ban or not to ban fireworks is the big question haunting many after the Kollam temple fire. But once the dust kicked up by debates on the issue settles, more festivals will come and more fireworks. It is an never ending cycle like the waves of the sea as hundreds of Hindu gods and goddesses are remembered by the faithful on auspicious occasions.The highlight of the ‘Festival of Lights’ Diwali or Deepavali celebrated across India is the bursting of crackers and the lighting of lamps which symbolize the victory of light over darkness, good over evil. Will anyone abandon the practice of bursting firecrackers in the name of safety during Diwali? So let us celebrate festivals without endangering life or property.