Banned chemicals used, norms violated: Official on Kerala temple fire

Safety guidelines and a ban on fireworks display were ignored at Kerala’s Puttingal Devi temple, officials said on Monday, a day after more than 100 people were killed in and around the premises in explosions and a blaze.

Sudarshan Kamal, chief controller of explosives in charge of monitoring the use, storage and licensing of such items, visited the accident site and pointed to “gross violation of explosive norms”.

“Banned chemicals were used by the suppliers who manufactured the crackers and conducted the display,” he said.

Thousands had packed overnight into the temple complex in Kollam district when a stray firework landed on a stockpile, triggering a huge blast that partially demolished a concrete building.

Kollam district collector A Shainamol said the administration denied permission for the annual fireworks display competition where different groups put on successive light shows for devotees gathered for the last day of a seven-day festival honouring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.

“I just did my job. There was no pressure on me. Granting or denying permission requires certain procedures.

“But somebody has gone ahead and done this and I have asked this to be investigated,” she said.

A copy of the ban order said an application by a temple committee official for the display was rejected, as “it was found that it was not a fireworks show but a competitive display”.

The order, issued on April 8, said action would be initiated under Section 208 of the Explosive Substances Act against those who violated the ban.

Eighty-year-old Pankajakshiamma, who stays near the temple, had objected to the event.

“We were often ostracised for speaking up against the fireworks. Nobody realised that they were sitting on a powder keg,” Pankajakshiamma said.

Meanwhile, police seized at least 100kg of explosive materials from nearby Attingal.

Police said the seizure was from a storehouse belonging to one Umesh, said to be the son of one of the licensees who had the contract for the fireworks display.

Searches are going in various other places in Kollam and state capital Thiruvananthapuram, police said.

On Monday, medical teams tended to hundreds of people injured in the fire, while police searched for those responsible for illegally putting on the display.

“All aspects with regards to the permission given for the event and what happened after that will be looked into,” S Ananthakrishnan, who heads the Crime Branch, said in the capital.

Chief minister Oommen Chandy has announced a judicial probe and an investigation by the Crime Branch.

Police have filed initial charges including culpable homicide not amounting to murder against six people.

None of the six has yet been arrested. Police said they were questioning five temple workers involved in staging the fireworks display.

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