Sabarimala disaster: Sushma blasts Kerala Govt

via VR Jayaraj | Idukki - Daily Pioneer published on January 20, 2011

Sushma Swaraj, Opposition leader in the Lok Sabha. on Wednesday alleged that the Kerala Government was solely responsible for the gruesome tragedy at Pullumedu in Idukki district on January 14 in which 102 Sabarimala pilgrims were killed.

“Many pilgrims have died. What was the Government doing? Had the Government kept its eyes shut?” she asked while talking to newsmen at Pullumedu after visiting the disaster site. She said it was the utter callousness of the Government which had led to the disaster.

What was needed was action and not probe, Swaraj said while expressing distrust at the Kerala Government’s promise to hold a judicial investigation into the incident. She called for stringent action against those responsible for the disaster.

Pointing out that reports had said there were about 250,000 pilgrims camping in Pullumedu to witness the holy Makara Jyoti, she aid the Government had failed to ensure the presence of sufficient number of police personnel there. It had also not made arrangements for medical help or electricity, she added.

Sushma Swaraj pointed out that the Government had failed to implement the recommendations of the various commissions for ensuring the pilgrims’ safety and convenience. There was a commission report in the context of the 1999 accident at Pampa, the base camp for Sabarimala, in which 52 pilgrims died, but this also was neglected, she alleged.

“Right now, there are a few reports with the Government and there is no doubt that the Government here had failed to take proper steps to prevent the tragedy, and hence it has failed in doing its duty,” she said.

Stating that she would raise the issue in Parliament, Swaraj said the only way to ensure the smooth conduct of the pilgrimage was to declare Sabarimala as a national pilgrimage centre. She said she would take up this matter with the Centre. Swaraj, who reached Pullumedu from Kochi, was accompanied by State BJP leaders. .

Later, she said in Kochi that the successive governments in Kerala were to blame for the disaster. Referring to the controversy over Makara Vilakku, she said it was a matter of faith and even the family of the priests had no authority to question it.

In the meantime, the Idukki district administration and the police locked horns over the circumstances that led to the disaster. While the district administration claimed that it had called for deployment of more policemen in the area, top police officials alleged that it was trying to escape the responsibility of the disaster.

The Idukki district administration had written to the District Superintendent of Police six days before the disaster that more police personnel should be deployed at Vandipperiyar, Vallakadavu and Pullumedu, place on the route to Sabarimala shrine, as trouble was brewing between the operators of taxi jeeps and autorikshaws.

However, the Police Department had neglected the warning, the district administration claimed. Various reports, including one from the Forest Department, had said that an altercation between operators of taxi jeeps and autorikshaws had set off the rush of devotees which resulted in the disaster.

However, top officials at the Police Headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram alleged that the District administration was trying to wash its hands off the responsibility of the disaster by leveling false allegations at the police. A report that IGP B Sandhya had presented to the Government had claimed that the police had acted efficiently at Pullumedu.

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