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Permission for fireworks had been denied: background of Kollam fire tragedy

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:51 IST

A massive fire broke out at Puttingal Devi Temple, in Kollam district, Kerala, killing 106 people and injuring 386, in the wee hours of the morning. The accident occurred at 3-3.30 am during the ongoing festivities for Vishu, the Malayalam New Year.

It is believed that the fire broke out after a lit cracker fell on a pile on fireworks that had been stored for use later in the day.

The injured have been sent to Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram hospitals; the death toll, and the numbers of those injured, are expected to rise as the day goes on as rubble from collapsed structures are being sifted through. The firework festivities at Paravur's Puttingal temple are not a one-off incident but a long-standing annual tradition during Vishu. Thousands of devotees flock to the temple to view the fireworks every year. This year was no different.

Not just a display of fireworks. It is a competition.

The annual fireworks are part of a competition where two groups try to outdo each other in a bid to win. The bigger the fireworks, the better. The team with the loudest and most elaborate fireworks is often judged the winner. This year, however, the celebrations were doubtful after the temple authorities failed to secure a fireworks license. According to The News Minute, till 9 April, nobody knew if the fireworks competition would be held or not.

No permission for fireworks

Reports suggest that a woman living in the vicinity of the temple had even obtained a stay order against the show. It has been suggested that district authorities permitted the firework show to continue after the temple authorities 'assured' them that they would be 'limited to only a ritualistic level'.

Another report says that a document issued on 1 March proves that there was no go ahead from Kollam Additional District Magistrate for the fireworks after the district revenue and police departments expressed concern. A written complaint from the neighbours to the Collector, further worked against the temple fireworks display.

Soon it transpired that the competition had been canceled, but word spread that the event would take place as usual, as a part of the festivities. The fireworks then began at 11.50 pm on Saturday and just as it was about to end, at around 3-3.30 am, a cracker misfired, fell flat on the ground instead of shooting up, causing sparks. Within a span of a few minutes, several more such 'rockets' in a nearby shed, were on fire, causing a massive explosion.

With that, the shed collapsed, and those inside the temple premises panicked. It is believed that there were approximately 10,000-15,000 people inside at that point.

Credit: Indian Express
Credit: Indian Express
Credit: Indian Express

Not the first fireworks-related accident

At least six other fire cracker-related fires have taken place in the temples of Kerala.

In 1952, about 68 people died at Sabarimala Temple, inside Periyar Tiger Reserve, while in 1990 the Duryodhana Temple, also in Kollam, witnessed 26 people burn to death after crackers led to a fire.

This incident is, however, by far the worst fire-related tragedy to take place at a temple.

An old video from the fireworks competition

Current scenario

  • Rescue operations are underway. Four Air Force helicopters, two AN32 aircraft will be carrying NDRF troops to the temple site. Two Boeing aircraft to reach with medical supplies. Indian Coast Guard has also reportedly sent a ship with medical supplies. 
  • An FIR has been filed against Puttingal temple authorities.  

  • CM Chandy has already inspected the site while PM Modi, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi expected soon.

  • Many bodies have been charred, so identification has been slowed down. 

  • Emergency numbers are - 0474-2512344, 9497930863, 9497960778 

  • First published: 10 April 2016, 3:05 IST