ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Disastrous Indifference

The apathy of citizens and offi cials towards fi re safety norms must be tackled.

The fire at the Puttingal Devi Temple at Kollam in Kerala on 10 April that claimed 106 lives and injured over 300 people is yet another affirmation of our apathy and indifference to the need for obeying rules. Whether it is in the flouting of safety regulations that led up to the disastrous event or handling of its consequences and aftermath, there is utter contempt for the rule of law in the knowledge that no accountability will be demanded, that political overlords will do their utmost to shift blame to protect their own and that the media will lose interest in what happened in a short while. And yet, it is not only the authorities and managements that deserve censure, it is also society at large and the patrons of super-speciality hospitals, cinema theatres, high-rise residential buildings and religious places who (with a few honourable exceptions) do not insist on the culprits facing action and the rules being enforced.

The Kollam temple case is a clear-cut one of how all these factors culminated. Safety norms about storage of explosive materials were simply ignored; the local politicians had no doubt that they had to please their constituents and the temple authorities knew that when it came to an event tied up with religion, they could count on public sentiments to support them. A Member of Parliament (MP) who visited the site has said that even the much-touted district administration’s denial of permission for the fireworks show that led to the accident actually prohibited only the “competitive” part of the show and the police remained mere spectators, not daring to take action against an event that was in direct contravention of a Supreme Court ban on fireworks display between 10 pm and 6 am. Nor does the long list of failures stop here. The makers of the firecrackers had used banned chemicals and the organisers had turned a blind eye to the precaution of keeping a 100-metre distance between the display and the viewers. Residents around the temple who have been complaining for years were intimidated and even the notices banning the fireworks “competition” issued by the additional district magistrate and district collector were attributed to their being Muslims and therefore a vengeful act.

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