Stampede: Govt, temple board draw flak for neglecting reports

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Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 16 (PTI) The Sabarimalastampede has sparked criticism of Kerala government and theTemple Board for alleged failure to act on recommendations ofthe panel, which probed a similar tragedy in 1999, to developalternative routes to the hill shrine to check recurringmishaps.

Opposition parties and Hindu outfits today allegedthat the Pullumedu disaster which claimed 102 lives could havebeen avoided if the report of the judicial probe into the 1999tragedy had been implemented in right earnest.

On January 14, 1999, 52 pilgrims, mostly from AndhraPradesh, were killed in a stampede at Pampa, the river-bankbase camp on the foothills of Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple.

Justice Chandrasekhara Menon, who probed the tragedy,in his report had suggested the need to provide basicamenities on the Pullumedu route through which a large numberof pilgrims from Tamil Nadu travel.

The report had pointed out that over 60 per cent ofdevotees coming to Sabarimala during the pilgrimage season arefrom other states and this route provide them easy access totemple towns like Madurai on their return journey.

The panel also made a strong case for developingVandiperiyar route through which at least 40 per cent ofpilgrims could be diverted to avoid huge rush and latentdangers along the Pampa route.

One of the main recommendations of the report was theurgent need to develop an alternate base camp at Uppupara, thespot where Firday''s stampede happened.

Senior Congress leader and former Chief MinisterOommen Chandy held that the government did not start the workon a transit camp even though the land for such a facility hadbeen identified five years back by the then UDF Government.

VHP state general secretary Kummanam Rajasekharanalleged that the government and Travancore Deveswom Board(TDB), which manages the temple, had been ''sleeping'' on thecommission report.

"The announcement of a judicial probe into yesterday''stragedy by Chief Minister is only a ritual. What is the useof such probes if the proposals made by the earlier one istotally neglected," Rajasekharan said. More PTI NM JRK RC

However, the report had made it clear that without assuring basic facilities and security, pilgrims should not beallowed to trek through the Pullumedu route.

It suggested that only after creating facilities likeresting places, vehicle parking, toilets, small eateries andshops and proper lighting the devotees be allowed to passthrough the route.

The report also wanted the trekking path along thePullumedu route to be widened at least by 4 meters and ironrailing to be erected on either side.

The report suggested that improvement of facilitiesshould be in tune with Sabarimala Master Plan.

All the panels that looked into problems of thehillshrine, surrounded by a dense forest, had suggested thatthe plans should be of long-term perspective taking intoaccount the requirements at least for the next 25 years.

However, critics say that the master plan is virtuallyin cold storage and the TDB, which manages the shrine, isinterested in putting up concrete structures in and around thetemple, which neither serve the devotees nor environmentallyfeasible.

According to Hindu outfits, the government also turneda blind eye to intelligence reports suggesting deployment ofmore police contingents for crowd control and security alongPullumedu route through which the pilgrim flow has beenincreasing every year.

Both the UDF and LDF that ruled the state alternatelydid not bother to carry out these proposals, the VHP leadersaid.

Reacting to the criticism, officials said that thegovernment had constraints in developing Sabarimala like anyother major temple sites as the shrine is located in anecologically sensitive spot in the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

A senior official, who did not wish to be identified,said the government was faing difficulty in developing thePullumedu route as it might harm the environment .

Once the route is developed it would become difficultto check flow of vehicles and human interference.

Pullumedu mostly comprises grasslands on the steps ofthe Western Ghats, a conducive habitat for tigers andleopards.

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