In a recent tragedy in Kollam, Kerala; over a 100 people have lost their lives due to a firework show gone awry. What was supposed to be a bright display to mark the end of a seven-day festival dedicated to Goddess Bhadrakali, turned out to be a day of mourning for many. The display, which started approximately at 11 PM, struck disaster at about 3:30 AM when sparks from the lit fireworks landed on a shed full of stored fireworks. The resulting series of explosions caused panic and chaos, while also destroying nearby buildings and causing debris to fall as far as up to 1 km. away.
The blame game, which started immediately after, went on to make shocking revelations regarding the failure of grass-root governance. The Kerala Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, told media people no clearance for the firework show, or even to store the fireworks had been given to the organisers or the temple board. In the 6 week run up to the fateful day, district administration officials had at every level had denied permission for the firework show. Additional District Magistrate, A Shanavas and District Collector A Shainamol, who had been the main officials in denying permissions and had issued a ban on fireworks display in Kollam two days before the incident, had allegedly been bullied and threatened by local politicians and Hindu groups to change their stand and give the permission. Even up to Saturday, a few hours before the fateful accident, clearance for the firework show was still not coming through.
The police, who were to enforce the ban set by the district administration, were also present in large numbers at the venue on Saturday night. According to the Kollam City Police Commissioner, P Prakash, the organisers claimed to have the permission, when asked for the written order, they refused and went ahead with the fireworks.
With an estimated 15,000 people present at the start of the display, the police decided not to intervene. Dealing the threat of thousands of devotees getting angry and turning violent, they turned a blind eye to the on-going celebrations.
Kerala goes to polls on 16th May, causing the approval for the firework display to quickly become a political issue, with parties putting pressure on the administration to approve the event. Despite the mounting pressure, no permission was granted. Despite this and a ban issued for the same, the organisers went ahead with the display.
The Crime Branch has taken over the investigation of the incident and initial reports suggest banned chemicals had been used in the explosives. Among the various laws broken include sections of the Explosives Act and a long standing Supreme Court ruling banning fireworks post 10 PM. The fact that the amount of explosives was above the legal limit on storage of explosives is also being examined.
The blast which rocked the locality had been felt by people up to two kilometres away, with concrete and other debris injuring people all around the area. Houses close to the temple compound have in many cases been damaged so badly they have been rendered unusable.
While it is not a man-made tragedy, nor can anyone call it an Act of God, it is a glaring example of failure of governance for political gains. While members of the temple board and organisers are among the names of people wanted in connection with this case, it is important to remember that those who enabled such a tragedy are as guilty of wrong doing.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar