102 killed in stampede, judicial probe announced

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G K Nair

Vandiperiyar (Ker), Jan 15 (PTI) In the worst disasterto hit Sabarimala pilgrims, 102 devotees were killed and 50injured in a stampede at Pullumedu near the famous hill-topshrine, raising questions about inadequate infrastructure andpoor police deployment.

Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan announced ajudicial inquiry into last night''s tragedy and declared asolatium of Rs five lakh each for families of those killed.

Lack of basic amenities like lighting, water supplyand camping facilities, coupled with insufficient policedeployment were blamed for the tragedy that struck home boundpilgrims.

The presence of a large number of mini-vehicles likejeeps and autorickshaws without permission or control throughthe trekking route, part of Periyar Tiger Reserve, also provedfatal, according to forest department sources.

Though Pullumedu route has been used by pilgrims fromTamil Nadu for long, the area had never been sufficientlycovered by security and crowd management plans of Sabarimalapilgrimage.

On days of heavy rush, the entire focus of forces,including police and National Disaster Response Force, tendedto be shifted to Sannidhanam-Pampa route, through which over90 per cent of pilgrims pass.

The victims included a Sri Lankan woman, identified asSha Kantha, member of an 18-member group from the islandnation.

Most of the dead were from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka andAndhra Pradesh who use the grassland forest trekking pathknown as ''Pulumedu'' in Periyar tiger reserve in Idukkidistrict.

The preliminary report of the district administrationsaid the stampede was caused by a commotion created by a minormishap involving a jeep and an autorikshaw which grazed eachother while plying along the narrow route.

Poor lighting, coupled with dense fog made mattersworse as people overwhelmed by panic ran helter skelter andwere trampled upon by one another.

Pilgrims had gathered at the spot to sightMakaravillakku (celestial light) on the eastern horizon thatmarks the culmination of the two month long Sabarimalapilgrimage.

Police said they did not receive complaints of anymissing persons.

All bodies had been shifted to hospital at Kumali forpost mortem and were being transported to their respectivehome towns, they said.

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