A veteran Hindu fire-walker is suing the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) for damages, alleging its negligence led to a stampede that floored and seriously injured him during the annual ritual in 2015.
Mr S. Jaganathan, 63, claimed in court papers filed that he was severely injured as a surge behind him caused the fall and he was hit by a metal barricade. He was then queueing for his turn along South Bridge Road in the direction of Sri Mariamman Temple.
The HEB is denying the claims, pointing out that fire-walking devotees purchase tickets which state participants are aware they may be injured in the course of the event, for which the temple is not liable and participants agree not to make claims. A State Courts pre-trial conference last week was adjourned to later this month. Both parties agreed to have the case heard in the State Courts, but with increased jurisdiction.
More than 4,000 devotees were reported to have taken part in the fire-walking event on Nov 1, 2015. Prior to crossing a 3m-long fire pit at the temple, devotees performed a customary 5km walk from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road.
Mr Jaganathan, a former prison officer who had been taking part in the ritual almost every year since 1979, was conveyed to the Singapore General Hospital after the mishap. He was diagnosed with Central Cord Syndrome, a spinal injury, and had implants placed in the upper spine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
He remained in the hospital after his surgery until Dec 11 and underwent physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions. He also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder requiring follow-up treatment and suffers 25 per cent permanent incapacity, based on supporting medical reports.
Among other things, he is seeking costs for present and future medical expenses, loss of future earnings and compensation for pain.
Number of devotees reported to have taken part in the fire-walking event on Nov 1, 2015.
In court papers filed by his lawyer S. Selvaraj, he claims the organisers had failed to deploy officers to control participants and non-participants to ensure they proceed in an orderly manner towards the temple as was done in preceding years.
The HEB, through lawyer K. Anparasan, pointed out that participants were monitored and controlled by trained temple volunteers and auxiliary police officers hired from Aetos. They were also supervised and monitored by police through roving teams and the mobile operations centre.
The 3m-high and 1.3m-long barricades were interlocked at all material times and only participants were allowed to walk along the two road lanes barricaded along South Bridge Road, according to defence papers filed.
Some 41 auxiliary police officers, 116 road marshals and 80 security volunteers were deployed along the route, the HEB also said.
The case is believed to be the first lawsuit involving an alleged mishap during the well-heralded annual event, which first began in 1840.