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'This tragedy shows total disregard for safety'

By Shobha Warrier
Last updated on: April 10, 2016 12:58 IST
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'Fireworks are dangerous in Kerala where there is very little open space.'

The site of the temple fire tragedy in Kerala, April 10, 2016. Photograph: Chandu TVM

IMAGE: The site of the temple fire tragedy in Kerala, April 10, 2016. Photograph: Chandu TVM


The tragedy that killed over a hundred people and injured close to 400 at the Puttingal Devi temple near Kollam, Kerala, early on Sunday, April 10 morning, has shocked the nation.

P R Chandramohanan, a former member of the Devaswom Board in Kerala, tells Shobha Warrier/ what should be done so that such tragedies do not happen again.

It is said the temple organised the fireworks without permission from the authorities.

As a former member of the Devaswom Board, do you think a temple can burst such a huge number of fireworks without getting permission from the authorities?

From what I have understood, this temple does not come under the Travancore Devaswom Board. It is run by a private Devaswom.

But the fact is whether it is under the board or run by a private trust, no temple can organise fireworks at the temple premises without getting proper permission from the district administration.

The district collector sanctions permission or hands over the license to the temple. He does that only after the fire and safety department examines the area thoroughly.

What the collector looks for is whether the area is safe to store all the explosives and whether the temple premises is huge enough to have such fireworks.

Several years ago, we had such an accident at the Kottarakara Ganapathi temple. I was the Devaswom Board member at that time. I had gone through what specifications a temple had to follow when it organises such fireworks at the temple.

In the normal course, the collector and his team examines the area after the explosives are stored. Only after he finds it safe would he issue a license.

And only if the temple has the license can it organise fireworks as part of the temple festival.

Reports say the temple did not have the permission to organise fireworks of such giant proportions...

If that is so, the blame will definitely fall on the organisers of the festival.

Do you hold only the temple authorities responsible for the tragedy?

Yes, they are responsible, but the man who organised the event also should not have gone ahead if he didn't get a copy of the license. So both are equally responsible for the tragedy.

It is also said that the temple authorities might have promised the license to the person who organised the fireworks, but eventually they might have failed to do so.

Do you think the tragedy would have been averted if people had shown little more respect for rules?

Definitely. This tragedy happened only because they did not follow the procedure properly. There is no doubt about it.

The temple authorities might have promised the man that they would arrange everything and he could go ahead with the event.

This shows their total disregard for safety and rules.

People stay so close to the temple and thousands of people throng to the temple to witness the fireworks. Is it really safe to have fireworks where so many people assemble?

A ritual of this sort has been going in temples for hundreds of years under the name of tradition.

I feel the time has come where there should be a debate on the need to follow such rituals in the name of tradition.

Even in Sabarimala, we do not have such fireworks; only vedi (minor crackers) as offering. Even the offering is done only after taking permission from the proper authorities.

Similarly, all the temple authorities should sit and discuss about what safety procedures should be followed in a temple.

It is high time there is a change in the way rituals are followed.

Fireworks at the end of a temple festival have become a huge draw among people, but sadly, they do not understand the dangers involved.

If you take the most popular Trissur Pooram itself, I see danger in the way it is conducted.

According to me, fireworks are dangerous especially in Kerala where there is very little open space.

It is high time the government controls what is being followed in temple festivals.

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