Sabarimala facing terror threat

via Courtesy: Pioneer News Service | Thiruvananthapuram published on September 26, 2008

The Intelligence wing of the Kerala Police has alerted the State Government that terrorist strike at the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala could not be ruled out in the coming Mandalam-Makara Vilakku pilgrimage season starting on November 15. The report, submitted by Additional Director General of Police Sibi Mathews to the Government through Director General of Police Raman Srivastava says that the Sabarimala shrine, the largest Hindu pilgrimage centre in South India after Tirupati, is vulnerable to terrorist attacks in various ways.

The report has called for escalating the normal security measures several times to prevent any possible strikes in the context of the threat of terrorists to the main temples including the Madurai Meenakshi shrine in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. The Intelligence wing has also pointed out that the Government should take immediate and effective steps to facilitate maximum security cover for the Sabarimala shrine by clearing the several hiccups associated with the temple.

The Intelligence report has given particular emphasis to the point that the situation at Sabarimala raised concerns as nothing could be done there without the authentication of the High Court and the Ombudsman. The problems in the Travancore Devaswom Board, which administers the temple, and the lack of coordination among the various Government departments were another concern, it says.

The police branch says that the Sabarimala temple is vulnerable to terrorist strike on many levels like the sheer number of devotes visiting it during the main pilgrimage season. It is expected that more than four crore devotees would visit the temple in the 60 days of the season, which would mean the police would have to keep watch on an average number of seven lakh pilgrims a day. This poses a huge security concern, the report points out.

That the location of the temple right inside deep jungles surrounded by huge mountains that border Tamil Nadu is another concern as there are numerous access points. Another problem is that a person-focused surveillance is virtually impossible due to the huge number of devotees present at the temple at any given point of time. That all the devotees would be wearing same or similar dresses was also a big problem from the security point of view.

The report has suggested that strict monitoring of all the devotees is necessary but this could contradict with issues of the sentiments of belief. For example, the Irumudi Kettu, the holy bundle, the devotees carry to the temple could not be subjected to open examination. Also, X-Ray machines will have to be set up at Sannidhanam, the abode of Lord Ayyappa at sabarimala.

An alternative is to impose strict security measures at Pampa, the base camp, but even then some strict measures are needed at Sannidhanam. Metal detector posts and scanners would have to be pressed into service and external examination of Irumudi Kettu would have to be done. For all these matter, it is up to the Government to find ways.

The Intelligence report made it clear that the high-security alert was not being issued in the context of any specific threat but it also said that Sabarimala’s security risk was not merely hypothetical anymore seen in the light of the recent developments in various cnetres in the country. A threat had been issued last year but this had turned out to be hoax.

Security measures had been in escalated condition in Sabarimala for the past three years, with the presence of commandos. Special arrangements were being made for the days before and after December 6 every year, in view of probabilities of risk related to the Babri Masjid remembrance day.

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