Rejecting the Opposition demand to file a review petition in the Supreme Court against its order allowing women of all age groups into Sabarimala, the Kerala government on Wednesday said it would implement the verdict in the coming pilgrim season itself.
A high-level meeting here of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the Lord Ayyappa temple, also decided to make necessary arrangements for women pilgrims visiting the hill shrine when it opens for the annual pilgrimage season on October 16.
Opposition Congress termed the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front government's decision as 'unilateral' and said it was against the interest of a majority of Ayyappa devotees in and outside the state.
It alleged that TDB President A Padmakumar, who earlier pitched for filing the review, had backtracked from his stand after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan 'chided' him.
The party also decided to convene a meeting of former presidents and board members of the TDB Thursday to decide the future course of action on the matter.
The Sabarimala Temple had restricted the entry of women belonging to the age group between 10-50 due as part of its age-old tradition.
On October 28, a five-judge constitution bench, headed by the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, lifted the ban on entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine.
Vijayan said that as a government, it has to abide by the directives of the top court and make necessary arrangements for women devotees visiting the shrine.
"It is the responsibility of the government to implement the court order without any compromise. We will ensure that necessary arrangements are provided for women devotees in the coming season itself," he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.
He also took exception to the TDB president's recent remark that they were not expecting a large number of women devotees at the shrine in the wake of the apex court order.
On the protest launched by various outfits against implementing the court verdict, the chief minister said no one has the right to prevent women devotees if they want to offer worship at the shrine.
"When the Supreme Court has taken a stand after considering all aspects of the matter, people have to accept the law of the land. The government is for implementing it," he added.
After the TDB meeting, Padmakumar said the Board discussed the Supreme Court order in detail and decided not to file the review petition.
"We view the apex court verdict with utmost seriousness. After discussing all the aspects, the meeting decided not to file the review petition in the present context," he said.
Detailing the preparations for the coming pilgrimage season, he said special facilities would be provided to the devotees at Pamba and Nilackal, the base camps.
Temporary dormitories, women-friendly toilets and more drinking water facilities would be arranged, he said, adding that all existing arrangements would be made better useful for women devotees.
"The Board expects 40 per cent more devotees at the shrine this season in the wake of the SC verdict," Padmakumar said, adding there was no room for any concern on the Sabarimala pilgrimage.
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala flayed the government and the TDB for its decision to implement the verdict in haste.
The TDB had 'failed' in its duty to safeguard the interests of Ayyappa devotees, he alleged.
He demanded that the state or the central government come out with an ordinance 'to overcome the Supreme Court verdict' and protect the interests of devotees of Lord Ayyappa.
Chennithala also said the district Congress committee in Pathanamthitta would stage a fast on Friday to protest the stand taken by the state government on the Sabarimala issue.
Activists of Yuva Morcha, the Bharatiya Janata Party's youth wing, took out rallies in all panchayats across the state Wednesday, urging the government to protect the centuries-old rituals and tradition of the hill shrine.
They also burnt an effigy of Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran at various places.
Hundreds of Ayyappa devotees, including women, on Tuesday had blocked state and national highways in various parts of Kerala protesting the Supreme Court verdict.
RSS for availing 'all options including judicial'
Noting that devotees' sentiments 'cannot be ignored' while considering the Supreme Court verdict, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Wednesday called upon all stakeholders to come together and address the issue availing 'judicial options also'.
The judgment of the Supreme Court should be honoured, the RSS maintained.
'The recent judgment on Sabarimala Devasthanam has evoked reactions all over the country. While we all respect the varied temple traditions followed by devotees in Bharat, we have to also honour the honourable Supreme Court,' RSS General Secretary Suresh Bhayyaji Joshi said in a statement.
'While the Supreme Court judgement should be respected, RSS calls upon all the stakeholders, including spiritual and community leaders, to come together to analyse and address the issue availing judicial options also,' the RSS said.
Emphasising that it is an issue of a local temple tradition and faith to which sentiments of millions of devotees, including women, are attached, the RSS underlined that these sentiments of the devotees cannot be ignored while considering the judgment.
'There is an obvious reaction to the same by the devotees, especially women, who are protesting against the forceful breaking of the tradition,' Joshi said.
The RSS, which has wide presence in the Left-ruled Kerala and has been at loggerheads with the ruling CPI-M, termed the state government's decision to implement the apex court's order with immediate effect as unfortunate.
'Unfortunately, the Kerala government has taken steps to implement the judgement with immediate effect without taking the sentiments of the devotees into consideration,' Joshi said.
Joshi also suggested that all stakeholders and devotees must convey their concerns on their right to worship in a manner which best suits their faith and devotion, to the authorities in a peaceful manner.
Sabarimala is a prominent Hindu temple located at Pathanamthitta district in Kerala. It attracts tens of millions of pilgrims every year.
The hill-top ancient temple of Lord Ayyappan remains open only for a little over four months in a year and the approach is through a forested area that involves an arduous five-km trek from the Pampa river base camp.
The Ayyappa Dharma Sena president had said the organisation would file a review petition against the judgment.
'Until October 16, the Sabarimala temple is closed. So, we have time.'
The shrine's head priest Tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru had said the verdict was 'disappointing', but the management accepted it.