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It turned out to be a Black Sunday for Kerala, throwing some strong light on public safety or rather the lack of it. While the district administration and the police blamed each other for the tragedy that claimed over 100 lives, senior Kerala High Court Judge Justice V Chitambaresh called for a ban on the use of high decibel fire cracker and sought immediate judicial intervention by the court to stop “man-made” tragedies like the Kollam horror. In a major and tragic fire mishap in the Indian state of Kerala that shook the entire nation pressing the prime minister to react immediately, about 112 people were killed and 380 others injured. The explosion took place at the Puttingal Devi temple during a festival at Paravoor at around 3 am on Sunday morning. The temple holds a competitive fireworks show every year, with different groups putting on displays for thousands gathered for the end of a seven-day festival honoring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.

Kerala temple fire becomes a burning issue!

Two days after this tragedy, police on Tuesday recorded the arrest of six temple officials. Five officials who surrendered before police late Monday night include P.S. Jayalal (president), Krishnankutty Pillai (secretary), J. Prasad, Somasundaram Pillai and Ravindran Pillai – all top office bearers of the temple. Remaining two were arrested after a two-day hunt by police. They are being questioned by the crime branch team led by Deputy Superindent of Police Radhakrishnan Pillai at the Kollam Crime Branch office. Earlier the Paravur police had charged around 30 people including the temple committee members, the contractors of the fireworks display and his workers under charges of culpable homicide. Five workers of the fireworks contractor Surendran are already in the custody of the police team and they have confided to police about the nature of the firework display. Cases were filed against Varkala Krishnankutty and Kazhakoottam Surendran, the contractors entrusted with the fireworks by the temple authorities. Krishnankutty is absconding while Surendran was critically injured in the blaze. There were around 15,000 people in the temple maidan and surroundings at the time of the incident, and temple authorities were prima facie guilty of violating the district administration’s order against holding a fireworks show. It also violated the Supreme Court’s directive that fireworks must not be used beyond 10pm.

Villagers and police had to pull many of the injured out from under slabs of concrete and twisted steel girders. Rescuers searched the wreckage for survivors, while backhoes cleared debris and thousands of worried relatives went to the temple to search for loved ones.
Three cars filled with explosives and two sacks filled with crackers were found near the Paravur temple where the tragedy took place on Sunday. Police have sought permission to defuse the explosives, media reports said. According to police sources, the accused are charged under Section 307 (attempt to murder) and 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) of the IPC and Section four of the Explosives Substances Act.

Prince William and Kate who are on a week-long trip to India offered their condolences to those affected by the Kollam fire tragedy.”Catherine (Kate) and I would like to offer our condolences to all those affected by the terrible fire at the temple in Kollam. I know all of you in this room will join us in the sentiments,” the Duke of Cambridge was quoted as saying.

Despite the growing clamour for ban on temple fireworks in Kerala in wake of this fire tragedy, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages about 1,255 temples in the state, has issued an urgent circular to all temples under it, directing that the fireworks display be carried out only in compliance with rules and regulations.

While the prime minister appeared on the accident spot in the afternoon, the temple authorities disappeared soon after the fire tragedy. 

As the temple festival was going on, fireworks display had commenced at the temple precincts since midnight and about one thousand people had gathered to take part in the celebrations and watch the show, which met a tragic end. As the fireworks and pyrotechnics display was coming to a close at 3am, an explosion is suspected to have occurred at the storeroom ‘Kambapuram’ filled with fire crackers and pyrotechnics materials, the police said.

Taking to micro-blogging site, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Fire at temple in Kollam is heart-rending & shocking beyond words. My thoughts are with families of the deceased & prayers with the injured.” He also said that he will be reaching Kerala soon to take stock of the situation arising due to the fire tragedy in Kollam.

Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy has cancelled his all programmes and rushed to the spot. Injured people have been rushed to Trivandrum Medical College in Thiruvananthapuram. Officials said over 10,000 people were present at a ground next to the temple to watch fireworks during a festival when the fire started a little after 3 am. According to sources, people were trapped by the flames when a spark during the fireworks display ignited a separate batch of firecrackers stored in preparation for the New Year festival of Vishu on Thursday.

The fireworks erupted in a big explosion. Huge flames engulfed the building within minutes, trapping devotees within the temple in the coastal city 60 km from Thiruvananthapuram. Sources say officials are investigating whether “competitive fireworks” were the reason behind the massive tragedy. It is not clear whether the temple had permission for fireworks through the night as part of their rituals. The fire, which has damaged the roof of the temple, is believed to have been brought under control.

Who’s to blame? Collectorate officials said it was the job of the police to see that the temple didn’t go ahead with the show, after the District Collector denied permission to the temple authorities to burst crackers. But Kollam’s Commissioner of Police P Prakash told the media that the temple committee members had told him “orally” that they had the “oral” permission to conduct the “display” and not the “competition” and so he allowed it go ahead.

Compensation for victims: The prime minister also said that he spoke to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and is arranging for immediate shift of those critically injured via helicopter. “Have also asked my Cabinet colleague & Health Minister JP Nadda to immediately reach the site of the fire tragedy in Kollam,” he added. Rs2 lakh compensation for families of the deceased and Rs50,00 for the injured have been announced. The injured were taken to Thiruvananthapuram Medical College hospital and Kollam district hospital. The hospitals were overwhelmed by the inflow of victims as they were short-staffed to handle situation on Sunday. The Kerala government with the support of Indian Air Force has arranged to airlift victims who have sustained 3rd degree burn injuries to hospitals in other cities.

Victims: At least 11 were declared brought dead at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College hospital. So far one of the deceased has been identified as Pradeep Anil (50) from Paravur, while officials are trying to identify others as well. Here is a list of names of some injured undergoing treatment at the hospital as published in the media: Umesh (35), Kazhakkootam; Ranji (22) Prashanth Nagar; Chandrabose (35) Thalakkod; Shabari (14) Variyachira; Ajith (27) Chadayamangalam; Viishnu (24) Punnakkulam; Ani (47) Paravur; Vind (34) Pallippuram; Venu (56) Paravur; Ambadi (21) Medical College; Vishnu (21) Ulloor; Rameshan (42) Kazhakkoottam; Rajendran (50) Paravur; Bhaskaran (65) Paravur; Sathyan (55) Kazhakkoottam; Satheesan (50) Koliakkode; Joy (35) Attingal; Surendran (67) Kazhakkoottam; Raju (38) Navaikkulam; Raju (28) Navaikkulam; Achu (14) Chirakkara; Rajesh (33) Paravur; Manikandan (40) Valathungal; Vishnu (18) Chirakara and Sathya (40) Paravur.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kerala. At the Thiruvananthapuram airport, he was received by Governor Justice (Rtd) P Sathasivam and state BJP leaders, including O Rajagopal who gave him the latest update on the mishap. Modi later flew to Kollam where he was received by Chief Minister Oomen Chandy and several MPs. Immediately after reaching the spot, he went to medical college to see the injured people. At the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College hospital (MCH), scores of ambulances and private vehicles have been bringing in the injured since early morning. The distribution of solatiums to the next-of-kin of the deceased will not be affected by the model code of conduct that was in force, says Mr. Chandy. The Chief Secretary has obtained the permission of the Election Commission for the disbursal. He added that the best-possible medical attention will be ensured for those injured. 

BJP chief Amit Shah arrived in Thiruvananthapuram and visited the injured at the medical hospital. He also announced the government’s compensation package that PM Modi had tweeted about earlier.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi offered his condolences: “News of the devastating fire at Puttingal temple in Kollam, Kerala is extremely shocking. My prayers are with the families of those who’ve lost loved ones in this terrible tragedy. Spoke to CM Oommen Chandyji to ensure that adequate relief, medical care and assistance is being provided to the injured at the earliest.”

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