The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.
Tamojit Ganguly, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur
Even after registering a two trillion GDP, a country of more than a billion population is still home to two of the biggest pestering problems of the society, one, the tendency to cock a snook at the law because police are governed by politicians and constrained from acting professionally and two, the allied tendency of bringing in religion and trotting out hurt religious sentiments at the drop of a hat, in order to prevail over one’s opponents, became stark clear when the gut-wrenching tragedy caused by a fireworks display gone badly wrong, at the ancient Puttingal Devi temple in Kerala’s Kollam district. The death of more than a hundred people and injuries caused to scores by explosions in a storehouse, was a result of gross negligence, a combination of appalling carelessness and a reckless disregard for the safety of others. That the deadly blaze was triggered by a display of fireworks that were set off despite permission having been refused by the District Collector raises serious questions about the actions of the organisers. What is equally surprising is the failure of the police to implement the decision of the district administration and stop the show. The police and the organisers were in breach of the law on another count as well — that of bursting firecrackers after 10 p.m. As with all such distressing incidents, there is bound to be a search for post-hoc explanations, but the only way to ensure that lessons are learnt from the heart-rending tragedy is to conduct a quick and impartial police investigation and bring the guilty to book. Political parties must refrain from trying to extract electoral capital from the tragedy in poll-bound Kerala — it is important that the truth is not crowded out by the noise.
Ironical as it may seem, Kerala on paper is better placed to ensure the safety of mass gatherings, especially religious ones, than other States. The State’s Department of Revenue and Disaster Management has a research-based institute dedicated to the study of accidents and has brought out a standard operating procedure for festival organisers. If government departments had taken the code seriously — it was prepared after a study of five major mass religious gatherings in the State including Sabarimala — there would have been no opportunity for anyone to violate orders, notably on the staging of fireworks and stocking of incendiary materials. Zero tolerance for violations, and a strong commitment to safety even in the remotest of locations, should be non-negotiable if human lives are not to be put in harm’s way. The speedy attention bestowed by the Central government to the relief operations and the support provided by the armed forces and expert medical teams have raised the profile of the Kollam incident and created a new benchmark for collaboration between the Centre and States during such emergencies. All contingency planning ultimately rests on protocols that should be tested through regular field drills. With nearly 50 major annual mass gatherings for religious occasions, including the mammoth Thrissur Pooram which is round the corner, Kerala cannot afford to fail again.
The Times of India