Stampede:Govt,temple board draw flak for neglect of reports

Stampede:Govt,temple board draw flak for neglect of reports

The opposition parties and the Hindu outfits today alleged that the Pullumedu disaster could have been avoided if the recommendations of the judicial probe into the 1998 tragedy have been implemented in right earnest.

On January 14, 1998, 52 pilgrims, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, were killed in a stampede at Pampa,the river-bank base camp on the foothills of Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple.

Justice Chandrasekhara Menon, who probed the tragedy, in his report had suggested the need to provide basic amenities on the Pullumedu route, through which a large number of pilgrims from Tamil Nadu pass up and down the shrine.

The report had pointed out that over 60 per cent of devotees coming to Sabarimala during the pilgrimage season are from other states and this route provide them easy access to temple towns like Madurai on their return journey.

The panel also made a strong case for developing Vandiperiyar route through which at least 40 per cent of pilgrims could be diverted to avoid huge rush and latent dangers along the Pampa route.

However, the report had made it clear without assuring basic facilities and security pilgrims should not be allowed to trek through the Pullumedu route.

According VHP state general secretary Kummanam Rajasekharan the Government and the Travancore Deveswom Board (TDB) had been sleeping on the commission report all these years.

"The announcement of a judicial probe into yesterday's tragedy by Chief Minister is only a ritual. What is the use of such probes if the proposals made by the earlier one is totally neglected", Rajasekharan told PTI.

Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Oommen Chandy held that the government did not start the work on a transit camp even though the land for such a facility had been identified five years back by the then UDF Government.

One of the main recommendations of the the report of the 1998 tragedy probe was the urgent need to develop an alternate base camp at Uppupara, the spot where Firday's stampede happened.

It suggested that only after creating facilities like vehicle parking, toilets, small eateries and shops and proper lighting the devotees allowed to pass through the route.

The report also wanted the trekking path along the Pullumedu route to be widened at least by 4 meters and putting up iron railing on either side. There should also resting places on the way.

The report suggested that improvement of facilties should be in tune with Sabarimala Master Plan. All the panels that looked into the problems of the hillshrine surrounded by a dense forest had suggested that the plans should be of long-term  perspective taking into account the requirements at least for the next 25 years.

However,critics say that the master plan is virtually in cold storage and the TDB, which manages the shrine, is interested in putting up concrete structures in and around the temple, which neither serve the devotees nor environmentally feasible.

According to the Hindu outfits, the government also turned a blind eye to intelligence reports suggesting deployment of more police contingents for crowd control and security along the Pullumedu route through which the pilgrim flow has been increasing every year.

Both the UDF and LDF that ruled the state alternately did not bother to carry out these proposals, the VHP leader said.

However,intial response from the official circles to the crticism is that the government had constraints in developing Sabarimala like any other major temple sites as the shrine is located in an ecologically sensitive spot in the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

A senior official, who did not want to be identified, said the Government is constrained to develop the Pullumedu route as it might harm the environment and the habitat of wild cats. One the route is developed it would become difficult to check flow of vehicles and human interference.

The Pullumedu mostly comprise of grass lands on the steps of the Western Ghats, a conducive habitat of tigers and leopards.

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