''Unlicensed entry of vehicles cause for tragedy''

Vandiperiyar (Ker), Jan 15 (PTI) Lack of basic amenitieslike lighting, water supply and camping facilities, coupledwith insufficient police deployment are some factors thatcontributed to the stampede that killed 102 Sabarimalapilgrims at Pullumedu last night.

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

Though Pullumedu route has been used by pilgrims fromTamil Nadu since 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 (NDRF),tended to be shifted to Sannidhanam-Pampa route used by over90 per cent of pilgrims.

According to sources, forest authorities had broughtthese lapses to the notice of higher ups at review meetingsattended by senior police and government officials and evenministers.

It has frequently been brought to the notice of the policethat vehicles should not be allowed to enter the area, aReserve Forest Region.

Allowing vehicles to this part is illegal not only duringthe pilgrim season but even during any time of the year as itposes a threat to the fragile ecosystem of the area, sourcessaid.

"We have even suggested bringing in regulation even fortrekking by pilgrims along the seven-km path unless and untilbasic facilties are provided in the area", a forest officialsaid.

Yesterday when the incident occurred, only a few membersof Forest Protection Councils and about 30 policemen from thelocal police station were present to manage the unexpectedlyhigh iflow of pilgrims, sources said.

A forest official, who did not want to identified, saidthey had asked the police to strictly regulate vehicles fromgoing to Pullimedu beyond Kumali town check post.

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