Kollam, Apr 10: In one of the worst tragedies to hit Kerala, at least 106 people were killed and 383 injured in a devastating fire that engulfed the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi Temple complex near here during an unauthorised display of fireworks early today. A late night statement issued by the Chief Minister’s office said 106 people had lost their lives in the incident that left 383 others with injuries. A judicial probe by a retired High Court Judge was ordered by the state government along with an investigation by Crime Branch into the tragedy, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced after an emergency Cabinet meeting over the tragedy.
The tragedy struck around 3.30 AM during display of fireworks at the temple complex, which is around 70 kms from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. The fireworks, for which no permission had been granted by Revenue and police officials, had started at midnight as part of an annual festival and thousands of people had gathered to witness it. The mishap occurred as sparks of the fireworks fell on the store room ‘Kambapura’ and the fire crackers kept there exploded with a deafening noise, police said. The blaze spread quickly trapping the devotees within the complex. Charred bodies and human remains were strewn around the temple complex after the fire tragedy.
“It was complete chaos,” eyewitnesses said. The explosions also ripped chunks of concrete and plaster from the temple and nearby buildings which fell on people killing some on the spot and wounding many others. The official statement said 75 bodies have been identified and 84 post-mortems had been conducted. Scientific examination would be done to identify bodies which have not yet been claimed, Chandy said. Chandy also announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 10 lakh to kin of each of those killed in fire tragedy, Rs 2 lakh for seriously injured and Rs 50,000 for those with minor injuries.(Also Read: Kollam temple fire: Rahul Gandhi visits accident site in Kerala)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who termed the incident as “heart-rending” and “shocking”, announced Rs two lakh each as compensation for the next of the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 each for the injured. He later flew in here and took stock of the situation and see the injured people. The sound of the explosion could be heard over a radius of one kilometre and the whole area plunged into darkness as the power supply went off and people ran helter-skelter, eyewitnesses said.The Chief Minister said the District Collector of Kollam had not given permission to conduct the fireworks. District Collector A Shainamol said “no permission for any kind of fireworks” was given.
She said the temple authorities had asked for permission to conduct competitive fireworks which was denied. For normal fireworks, no permission was sought and hence there was no question of granting it, the DC said. Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said, “Actually, it is not a police failure,” on being asked why police had not stopped the fireworks since it was not permitted. “When lakhs of people are assembled here, if there is police action, it will have another problem. So, we have to consider all these aspects<” he said. Police sources said a case has been registered against temple authorities and explosive licencees under section 307 (Attempt to murder), and 308 (Attempt to commit culpable homicide) of IPC and under section 4 of Explosives Substances Act.