Sabarimala pilgrims’ bodies take to AP

via PNS | Kottayam published on January 13, 2010

The bodies of all the eleven Sabarimala pilgrims killed in Tuesday’s truck accident at Attivalavu, Kanamala near Pampa Valley in Kottayam district of Kerala were taken to their native place in Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday evening even as reports said that over-speed and brake failure were the prime reasons for the tragedy. Four pilgrims who were critically injured in the accident were still undergoing treatment at the Medical College Hospital, Kottayam.

All those who lost lives were young men and most of them were rice mill workers in village Anasagaram in Nandigaon some 50 km away from Viajayawada. It is also said most of the victims were relatives. They were part of the group of 80 pilgrims who had left Anasagaram on January 6 for Sabarimala in two trucks. Preliminary reports indicted that the gruesomeness of the accident was intensified by the sand-bags packed in the truck as a measure for cushioning effect.

Those dead in the accident were trapped under the sand that spilled from the bags after the truck overturned hitting an embankment on the road-side, probably when the driver tried to stop it somehow after he lost control of the vehicle due to brake failure. The truck was being driven by Bhupati Rao, the stand-by driver, who was now undergoing treatment at the Medical College Hospital, Kottayam. Twelve others had also suffered injuries.

Those who lost lives in the accident were identified as Tirumala Rao (25), Hari Rao (28), Ramesh (26), Raghava Rao (25), Yesu Babu (26), Prasad Totta (25), Siva Krishna (32), Sivarama Krishna (19), Venikta Krishna (24), Krishna (35) and Chintu (24). The post-mortem procedures were completed before noon at the Medical College and the bodies were embalmed there for being taken to Vijayawada.

Bodies of those killed revealed no injury marks strengthening the doubt that they were asphyxiated after being trapped under the sand which spilled on them when the truck overturned after hitting the embankment. Local residents who recovered the bodies from the site of the accident said the mouths and nostrils of all those trapped between the sandbags and the tarpaulin that covered the truck were filled with sand. The truck was carrying six tones of sand and 45 Sabarimala pilgrims.

Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadannappally Ramchandran informed that the Travancore Devaswom Board, which was administering the Sabarimala temple, would bear the expenses for transporting the bodies to Vijayawada. Chief Minister VS Achtuhanandan said in Thiruvananthapuram that the Devaswom Board had been instructed to give an assistance of Rs 500,000 each to the families of the dead. The board had earlier decided to give a relief of Rs 100,000 each to the relatives of the victims.

The bodies of the dead were taken to Vijayawada in six ambulances and officials of the Revenue and Devaswom departments were accompanying them. Minister Kadannappally said that the officials would hand over Rs 25,000 each to the families of the dead once they reached Vijayawada. Earlier, Kadannappally and other Ministers paid tributes to the dead when the bodies were put for the public to pay obeisance at the Medical College.

The report compiled by Minie Antony, District Collector, Kottayam on the instruction of the Chief Minister also cited over-load, over-speed and loss of control as the prime reasons for the accident. The report, compiled mainly based on the statements from the passengers and witnesses, recommended a detailed inquiry. It also said that the pilgrims had died after being caught under the sand.

Meanwhile, officials in the Motor Vehicle Department said violation of rules had led to the loss of lives in the accident at Attivalavu. “I am not sure I should say this at this moment. But the fact is that the pilgrims, or those who had taken them on the truck, to Sabarimala, had not respected the primary rule that carrying passengers on trucks is against law,” said an official.

He, however, said even his department had never taken seriously the transportation of pilgrims to Sabarimala. Hundreds of such trucks used to ferry pilgrims from other states during the Mandalam and Makara Vilakku season at Sabarimala, he said. Asked whether movement of pilgrims on trucks would now be restricted, he said it was up to the Government to take a decision on this.

Movement of heavy passenger vehicles through Kanamala had been banned after an accident there two weeks ago, but officials could not explain how the truck from Andhra Pradesh was allowed through the road. “The police could have cleared it without knowing that it was carrying passengers and not goods as the top of the truck was covered with tarpaulin,” suggested an official.

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