Sabarimala stampede: Proposal for helipad at Pullumedu

via PNS | Thiruvananthapuram published on August 14, 2011

Construction of a helipad, installation of battery-powered lighting system and deployment of large number of policemen at Pullumedu en route to the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala will be some of the measures the judicial panel probing the January 14 stampede there, in which 102 pilgrims were killed, will recommend to the Government.

The Justice (retired) MR Hariharan Nair Commission which started the evidence-gathering exercise as part of its inquiries on August 1 will visit Pullumedu, a high-altitude meadow inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Idukki district, this week for on-the-spot examinations. It is expected to submit the report, the draft of which has already been prepared, by September 15.

Enforcement of strict control over entry of vehicles into the Pullumedu area, formulation of an effective system for vehicular parking, erection of police barricades to control pilgrims’ crowds and installation of mobile phone towers there are some other proposals that may find place in the commission’s report.

As many as 102 pilgrims were killed in the stampede on the night of January 14 at Pullumedu, a high-altitude meadow within the Periyar Tiger Reserve. The tragedy occurred when thousands of pilgrims rushed downhill simultaneously after sighting the Holy Makara Jyoti, the ultimate event of the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

The commission has reportedly made the preliminary conclusion that lack of light and sufficient police personnel for crowd-control, uncontrolled parking of vehicles in the area where tens of thousands of pilgrims assembled and obstruction caused by a metallic chain installed by the Forest Department across the path were the main reasons for the accident.

It has also learned that lack of light and facilities for emergency evacuation had hit rescue operations, which was one reason for the high death toll. In this context, the commission will recommend installation of battery-powered lighting during pilgrimage season and construction of a helipad.

The Justice Nair Commission will also recommend strict implementation of the High Court orders pertaining to the facilities to be arranged for the Sabarimala pilgrims. It will also propose the implementation of the recommendations of the judicial commission that had looked into the gruesome accident that occurred at Pampa, base camp for Sabarimala in 1999.

Sabarimala had witnessed two other major disasters in which 118 pilgrims were killed. As many as 66 pilgrims had died in a fire at Sabarimala on January 14, 1952. Tragedy revisited Sabarimala on another January 14 after 47 years, in 1999 when 52 pilgrims, who were jostling among themselves for sighting the Makara Jyoti, died in an accident.

Justice Hariharan Nair was appointed as commission to inquire into the Pullumedu disaster as per a decision of the State Cabinet on May 4 on the basis of then chief minister VS Achuthanandan’s announcement after the accident. The Government settled for a retired judge after the High Court informed of its inability to provide the services of a sitting judge.

The report of the Kerala Police’s Crime Branch, which probed the stampede first, has already concluded that there was no sabotage behind the incident. It said there was no external hand behind the gruesome tragedy but the stampede occurred following the convergence of a large number of Sabarimala devotees at one place at the same time.

As per the Crime Branch report, the failures on the part of the Forest and Devaswom departments had contributed to the tragedy. It said that the Forest Department, which looked after the Pullumedu region, had failed in controlling the flow of vehicles into the area.

The Crime Branch also had found lack of lighting and sufficient police force as the main reason for the high number of casualties. The High Court had earlier observed that lack of coordination among different departments concerned with the Sabarimala pilgrimage had contributed to the Pullumedu tragedy.

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