Kollam temple fire no act of God: Kerala government a culprit

Sreejith Panickar
Sreejith PanickarApr 10, 2016 | 18:52

Kollam temple fire no act of God: Kerala government a culprit

Firework accidents aren't uncommon in Kerala. Most temples in the state spend copiously on firecrackers to entertain the public, and some end up killing them. The Paravur Puttingal temple mishap in Kollam district is the latest to be added to a list of several dozen such man-made disasters, and now occupies the top spot in terms of casualties in such accidents.


There are laws governing the use of explosives and firecrackers, but nobody takes them seriously. From initial reports, one understands that the Kollam temple management had attempted to take approval for the fireworks display, which was denied by the district authorities.

Ideally, the temple authority's interest in offering a pyrotechnic display to the public should have ended there, but as I said earlier, nobody gives importance to laws during a festive season. So the temple authority went ahead with its decision to conduct the event.

It approached some contractors and booked them for the event without even checking the validity of their licences, or in the worst case, in spite of knowing well that the contractors did not have valid licences. The law stipulates that a safe distance of 300m should be left between the fireworks display area and the place where the public is allowed. But can we expect a temple authority that did not worry about permissions and licences to address this "trivial" clause in the law?

Nobody gives importance to laws during a festive season. 

People run festivals with a great degree of pomp to show off their supremacy and mastery in organising big events. So naturally, they would not worry about the quantity of explosives that could be stacked at the place. All these combined, it would have been a miracle if the mishap had not happened at Kollam. I share no sympathy with the organisers, and my only worry is about the people who gathered at the place late at night, anticipating a show of light and colours.


We know that there is no facility for the district authority to follow up on a case where permission had not been granted. It would expect the temple management to not conduct an event without approval.

But a major culprit in the whole process is the state government.

Ideally, the police would be informed in advance of the use of public address systems and firecrackers in temple premises. In a situation where permission was denied, the police should have intervened and advised the temple authority to not start the fireworks display. Since there is nothing on record that suggests the police attempted to stop it, they are an equal stakeholder in the whole incident as the temple authority.

I saw Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy addressing the media, and saying the state was well-equipped to handle the unfortunate event. He said all facilities were available at Kollam and in Thiruvananthapuram, the nearest city, which is also a hospital hub. But instead, I came to know that hundreds of people who turned up to donate blood were sent back by the hospitals as there weren't adequate facilities in the hospitals to store large quantities of blood.


I checked with a few people who volunteered to donate blood and they revealed the sorry state of affairs in Thiruvananthapuram. On an average, the city needs 500 units of blood everyday, but most donation centres like the state-owned Medical College, Centre-owned Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology, and the jointly-owned Regional Cancer Centre, receive donors only till noon.

The volunteers told me that it was a regular sight to see people running here and there to arrange blood for their relatives. And it has been well over a year since the last blood donation drive was conducted by the Medical College.

This exposes the fact that Kerala (and perhaps several other states in the country) may not be having much of a disaster recovery plan or a crisis management plan that would "work" in an adverse situation. Hope there will soon be laws to ban the use of heavy crackers for entertainment, without mixing any religious or political colour to it. An incident like this is not an act of god, but of a few irresponsible people.

Is the state then well-prepared to face a major crisis? That is the really alarming question that pops up. The answer is an emphatic "no".

Last updated: April 11, 2016 | 20:26
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