Country mourns Kollam tragedy, fireworks safety in focus

INDIA-FIRE/ People walk past debris after a massive fire and explosion near Puttingal Devi Temple in Kollam | Reuters

The country was on Sunday left shocked and saddened as it woke up to a massive temple tragedy in Kerala, with the President and the Prime Minister joining the people in mourning the loss of life in the incident, which brought into focus the question of fireworks safety.

At least 100 people were killed and 383 injured in the major fire at around 3.30 am that engulfed the 100-year-old Puttingal Devi Temple complex packed with thousands of people near Kollum during a display of fireworks held by the temple management despite the authorities denying permission for it.

"Fire at temple in Kollam is heartrending and shocking beyond words. My thoughts are with families of the deceased and prayers with the injured," Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited the site, said. He said the horrific tragedy cannot be described in words.

President Pranab Mukerjee also conveyed "heartfelt condolences on loss of lives in Kerala temple fire".

Praying for the departed souls and well being of the injured, Congress President Sonia Gandhi asked Kerala government to ensure ample and immediate relief measures while party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi too visited the site and the hospital to inquire about the injured.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, BJP Chief Amit Shah, chief ministers, governors and leaders of various parties expressed grief over the tragedy.

Expressing shock and grief over the incident, CPI leader D. Raja said the state government and temple authorities should answer if they had taken adequate safety measures.

"There are several issues which need to be answered by the state government and the temple authorities. ...whenever there is temple festival, thousands of people gather but were there adequate safety arrangements."

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said his thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. "God be with them in this hour of darkness & despair," he tweeted.

Indian Medical Association in Kerala decided to move the Kerala High Court seeking a ban on display of fireworks which are common in the state during festivals and political programmes.

IMA Kerala president Dr A.V. Jayakrishnan said their Thiruvananthapuram branch President R.C. Sreekumar would file a writ petition before the High Court, seeking to curb use of firecrackers.

The mishap occurred as sparks of the fireworks during the festivities fell on the store room 'Kambapura' where crackers were stored, leading to many explosions which were heard over a radius of one kilometre. The temple complex is around 70 kms from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

A large number of people died when concrete chunks and iron grills from the structures fell on those who had gathered to watch the festivities, according to eyewitnesses.

Pankajakshi Amma, on whose complaint the Kollam collector had denied permission to the Puttingal Devi temple authorities to conduct the fireworks display, today said she would continue her fight and resort to legal steps to ensure a total ban.

Pankajakshi Amma's house, located about 50 metres from the tragedy site, was damaged too in the mishap.

She and her family had approached the district administration requesting a ban on the fireworks display this year.Though revenue officials had visited them to verify the complaint and take evidence and informed them that there was a stay on the display, it was, however, held, her son-in law Prakash said.

Bollywood too was shaken by the tragedy with filmmaker Shekhar Kapur appealing for control over fire works.

"People go to pray and celebrate life. Come away in wake of death and tragedy #fireworks getting dangerous and must must be controlled #Kollam."

Actor Dia Mirza blamed the tragedy on negligence.

"When tragedies are struck by human apathy and negligence it makes it so much more painful...so many innocent lives lost. Gutted. #Kollam."

While ordering a judicial probe into the incident, Kerala Chief Minister Ooomen Chandy also announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 10 lakh to kin of each of those killed in fire tragedy and Rs 2 lakh for seriously injured.

Modi also announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 for those seriously injured.

"Very sad news from Kerala. My deepest condolences to the families who lost their loved ones. Prayers for those injured," West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted.

"Saddened by the Kerala temple fire tragedy. My heartfelt condolences to families of the deceased and prayers with those injured," her Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar said on Twitter.

RJD supremo Lalu Prasad too expressed grief at the Kollam temple fire incident saying, "heart goes out for the victims and families".

"Very sad to hear such tragic news. Prayers with all victims," Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a tweet.

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Topics : #Kollam tragedy

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