Address key issues in Kerala fireworks tragedy: The Statesman

People gather at the spot where a fire triggered by fireworks resulted in an explosion and a roof collapse at a temple in Kollam, India, on April 10, 2016.
People gather at the spot where a fire triggered by fireworks resulted in an explosion and a roof collapse at a temple in Kollam, India, on April 10, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on April 14, the newspaper reminds Indian political leaders that this is not the occasion to extract political mileage.

The people of Kerala, though well educated to understand their consequences, have a child-like fascination for fireworks.

A temple or church festival is considered incomplete unless accompanied by a pyrotechnics display even if it means flouting the law and rules and regulations.

Repeated tragedies resulting from such life-threatening entertainment have not deterred the people's enthusiasm for fireworks which are conducted like Indian Premier League (IPL) matches.

The bigger and louder the bang, the better it is for the crowds that flock to these festivals.

The pyrotechnics to mark the end of the week-long Meena-Bharani festival in Puttingal Devi temple at Paravur in Kollam district of Kerala on Sunday morning (April 10) killing more than a hundred people and injuring around 400 turned out to be the worst-ever tragedy of its kind to strike Kerala.

A recent survey shows that temples in Kerala spend Rs.2,000 crore (S$409 million) annually on fireworks.

Kollam district collector Shainimol, based on the recommendation of the assistant district magistrate, denied permission to the Puttingal temple authorities to conduct fireworks which was scheduled to begin at 11 pm on Saturday and end at 4 am the following day.

A Supreme Court order bans fireworks and bursting of noisy crackers between 10 pm and 6 am.

In 1952, fireworks claimed the lives of 68 in the famous Sabarimala temple. It resulted in the ban on fireworks there ever since.

Thrissur Pooram is known for the biggest pyrotechnics display during its annual festival slated for the coming Sunday, 17 April.

During the 1978 Pooram, eight people lost their lives in pyrotechnics and seven people in the 2006 festival.

The temple authorities have already obtained permission for the use of 4,000 kg of fireworks.

The Puttingal temple tragedy raises many inconvenient questions.

A Hindutva outfit tried to float the theory that "CPM Muslim terrorists" caused the explosion and demanded a judicial inquiry. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy readily agreed.

The inquiry commission will take ages to submit its report by which time the tragedy would have lost its sting.

The organisers were clearly in breach of Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code (attempt to murder) and it does not require a retired High Court judge to bring out this fact.

A quick and impartial police investigation would have helped bring the guilty to book.

It certainly is not the occasion to extract political mileage.

The caste-ridden Puttingal Devi temple was built by followers of Sree Narayana Guru, patron saint of the numerically strong Ezhava community.

The BJP has struck an alliance with the political arm of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripala Yogam of the Ezhavas for the 16 May election to the Kerala Assembly.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelling all his programmes in Delhi and rushing to Kollam with a medical team on Sunday and announcing a solatium of Rs two lakh to the next of kin of the deceased and the BJP president Amit Shah being the first political leader to visit the injured in hospital did not escape the attention of political observers in poll-bound Kerala.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy by announcing an ex gratia payment of Rs.10 lakh to the next of kin of those who lost their lives drove home to the Centre that the life of the Keralite is not that cheap.

* The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.