Sabarimala disaster: HC unhappy with official reports

via Kochi | VR Jayaraj - Daily pioneer published on January 24, 2011

Unhappy over the contradictions in their reports on the January 14 stampede at Pullumedu in Idukki district in which 102 Sabarimala pilgrims were killed, the Kerala High Court on Monday asked State Forest Department and the Devaswom Department to submit fresh affidavits on the disaster.

After studying the reports submitted by the Forest, Devaswom and Police departments on the tragedy, a division bench of the court comprising Justices Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and PS Gopinathan observed that several vital points were missing in them and the reports contradicted each other.

Hitting hard at the Government departments, the judges said they were not interested in reports from the State capital but instead wanted clear accounts prepared from the place of the disaster. They also asked the Devaswom’s special commissioner at Sabarimala to submit exact details of what had happened on January 14 at Pullumedu.

The report filed by the DGP before the court, which had earlier observed that there were serious lapses on the part of authorities at Pullumedu, had mentioned the case of a chain the Forest Department used to put across the path leading to Pullumedu but there was no such mention in the report of the Forest Department.

The court wanted to know from the Forest Department about the person(s) who were in charge of installing and removing this chain, its actual purpose and whether it had been removed on the day of the accident. Several pilgrims had said that the stampede started after some devotees tipped over this chain in darkness.

As per the report of the Devaswom Department, the Forest Department had given permission for several temporary shops at Pullumedu. It had also allowed many vehicles to enter the area and park at Pullumedu, a protected forest area coming under the eco-sensitive Periyar Tiger Reserve, on the day of the accident, the Devaswom report said.

The High Court asked the Forest Department, which claimed there were 50 personnel on duty on January 14, to direct the official who was in charge at Pullumedu to report whether proper examinations had been carried out in the case of vehicles and whether arrangements had been made for parking them. It also asked about the conditions on which permission for shops was given.

The court asked the Devaswom’s special commissioner at Sabarimala to file an affidavit before January 28 on whether his department had reviewed the facilities arranged at Pullumedu before January 14. The case would now be taken up on February 11 before which date the Forest Department would have to file its new affidavit.

The Police Department sought more time to complete its investigations into the Pullumedu disaster. It said six teams had been sent to the neighboring states to collect statements of pilgrims who were at Pullumedu during the disaster and that a final report could be prepared only after their return.

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