A blame game over the Puttingal Devi temple fire tragedy has erupted with Kerala Police Chief T P Senkumar saying the order banning fireworks display should have been issued by Kollam district authorities much earlier.
“The district authority should work in a cohesive manner while banning a traditional festival which has been taking place for decades without interruption,” Senkumar said in a scathing attack on Kollam district administration.
The entire district administration, including the district collector and district police chief, should have been present in the area to implement the ban, Senkumar said in a reply report sent to the additional chief secretary on April 13.
“There is no point in telling that an order has been issued and it has not been complied with,” he said apparently referring to Kollam District Collector A Shainamol’s stand that it was the duty of the police commissioner to ensure that the ban order was implemented.
“Such a decision (banning the fireworks display) should have been taken much earlier and the district administration should have published it. The district administration and police should work as a cohesive unit to impose it,” he said.
“There is not much value in blaming one unit by the other. All have their joint responsibility”, the letter said.
“The disunity and lack of cohesion in the district administration was so much visible during the rescue and relief operations. Not even a single person from the district administration was available for the entire day to assist the police, public and fire rescue service who were involved in the operations,” he stated.
Even for the prime minister’s visit on such a difficult day, there was no help from the district administration. The tehsildar and circle inspector of Police were present when the fireworks display started at 10.30 pm on April 9.
“Neither the district administration, nor the district police chief came to know that this was happening till the mishap occurred at 3.10 am on April 10”, he stated.
Senkumar also pointed that 33 other festivals were also held on the same day in Kollam and it was not possible to deploy hundreds of policemen at one place.
The fire tragedy at the 100-year-old temple had occurred during an unauthorised display of fireworks on April 10 after a spark from a firecracker fell on the storehouse containing crackers, in which 108 persons were killed and over 300 injured.
Noting that hundreds of police officers get injured every year in similar incidents, Senkumar said most of the cases get withdrawn by the government which “demoralises” the police.
In the Puttingal tragedy, one policeman on duty was killed and two were injured.
Additional Chief Secretary Naline Netto, who is also the home secretary, in a report to the government had suggested action against three police officials, including Kollam Police Commissioner P Prakash.
The government has sent this report to the DGP for his comments. This had annoyed Netto even as Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala maintained that there was “nothing wrong” in doing so.