Forest Dept blames entry of vehicles the cause for stampede

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 18 (PTI) A day after KeralaHigh Court rapped the Kerala government over the Sabarimalastampede, the forest department today said total neglect ofits repeated warnings against uncurbed entry of vehicles intothe narrow hill route was a vital factor for the tragedy.

The department said it had been under pressure fromstate agencies, the temple board and lobby of vehicleoperators and local politicians to allow traffic into thesensitive route at Pullumedu, closed a few years ago.

According to sources, the department said in a reportthat its warnings to authorities concerned to strictlyregulate vehicles like jeeps and autorickshaws had beenlargely ignored by the Travancore Devaswom Board, whichmanages the temple affairs, and other agencies who conduct thepilgrimage, which draws millions during the peak period.

The authorities of the Periyar Tiger Reserve alsocited similar lapses as the factors that led to the disasterthat claimed 102 lives and recommended firm steps to checkincursion of vehicles into the route which forms part of theecologically sensitive wildlife habitat.

PTR Field Director R R Shukla today sent a report tothe National Tiger Conservation Authority as sought by theagency shortly after the tragedy.

The department said huge flow of pilgrims throughUppupara on the Pullumedu route during the peak season (midNovember to January 14) had been a recent phenomenon.

Earlier, pilgrims coming through that area used toproceed from Vallakkaddavu through small estate roads toSathram, about 10 km from Vandiperiyar, and, then to theshrine through the Poonkavanam forests, sources said.

The suggestion for developing a transit camp atSathram area for pilgrims has been ignored by TDB, which hasaround 20 acres of land at its disposal there, sources said.

By modest estimates, as many as 7,000 vehicles passthrough the area during the peak pilgrimage season every year.

The department rubbished the theory that a chain putacross the path was one of the reasons for the mishap.

Whatever hurdles to check the incursion of vehicles intoforests had been put up in such a manner that they would notcause any obstruction to the trekking pilgrims, it said.

DGP Jacob Punnose said the police report would besubmitted to the high court on January 20 as directed by it.

The Travancore Devaswom Board set up a four-memberpanel headed by superintendent of its vigilance wing toprepare a report on the tragedy.

The high court had yesterday pulled up the governmentfor the tragedy and asked the police, forest and TDB tofurnish reports on the worst pilgrim tragedy in the history ofthe hill shrine.

Meanwhile, the pilgrimage season will concludetomorrow with winding up ceremonies and rituals at the shrine.


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