Days after 15 people died of poisoning after eating prasad at a temple, a local seer and three others were arrested on Wednesday on charges of hatching a conspiracy to kill devotees in a bid to defame the management and take control of the shrine in this district in Karnataka.
The 52-year old seer and his three accomplices—a woman, her husband and his friend—have been arrested under IPC sections including those pertaining to murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, South Zone IGP K.V. Sharath Chandra said.
"Mahadeshwara Hill Saluru Math seer Pattada Immadi Mahadeshwara Swamy alias Devanna Buddhi connived not only to take over the temple trust but also to defame the existing trust members," he told reporters in Chamarajanagar.
The seer was earlier in control of the temple trust till 2017, but was sidelined later, which infuriated him, the IG said.
At the behest of the seer, the 35-year old woman of Marathahalli near Sulavadi allegedly arranged for a pesticide and her husband and his friend mixed it in the prasad while it was being prepared, he said.
Fifteen people died and more than 100 people are still in hospitals after ingesting the poisonous prasad on December 14 at Sulvadi at an event to celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the tower of the Kichchugutti Maramma Devi temple. The IG said investigation was still in progress and did not rule out the possibility of a few more arrests.
The four have been booked under Indian Penal Code sections 307 (attempt to murder), 302 (punishment for murder), 304 (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy).
Five teams comprising 22 officers and 40 policemen solved the case in six days, the official said.
He said the temple was under the total control of the seer till April 2017 generating huge money for him. However, at the insistence of local villagers and devotees, a trust was formed for expansion of the temple. "The seer was upset with the formation of the trust without his wish as his source of income almost dried up. Since then, shadow boxing between the temple management and the seer began," he said.
In October this year, the trust decided to build the 'gopuram' (tower) and revealed its plan to the seer, who readily volunteered and got an action plan for Rs 1.5 crore from a temple architect in Tamil Nadu, he said.
The seer allegedly planned to mint money but the trust discarded his plan, saying that it was a sheer wastage of money and prepared another for Rs 75 lakh and decided to hold the groundbreaking ceremony on December 14, which irked him, Chandra said.
The seer directed the woman to mix poison in the prasad to defame the temple management and avenge his insult, the IG claimed.
On December 14, the two men had poured 15 bottles of pesticide in the prasad after sending away the cooks under some pretext, he said.
The cooks returned and noticed a bad smell. When they inquired with the duo, they misled them by saying that it was smell of edible camphor added to the prasad.