With just two months left for the Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrim season at the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and the State government are yet to act on certain suggestions made by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in January for better crowd management at the pilgrim centre.
The NDRF had found serious flaws in the arrangements made by the TDB for crowd management at the holy hillock. Skilful crowd management by the NDRF had averted stampedes at the Sannidhanam and at Marakkoottom on the trekking path on several occasions during last season. The NDRF made the suggestions to Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar, who was then Devaswom Chief Commissioner, immediately after the close of the pilgrim season.
In NDRF's view, the permanent barricades erected at Marakkoottom are unscientific in nature. The Saramkuthy U-turn is another area susceptible to stampedes. The narrow, barricaded pathway on the hill slope, with a sharp-U-turn, makes the way dangerous for trek. The fabricated swing-open gates erected at many points along the barricaded trekking path to control crowds are identified as another major flaw. The NDRF had suggested replacement of these swing-open gates with drop-arm barriers which could be easily operated. The drop-arm gates can be relocated to the tip of horseshoe curves so that these could be seen by the moving crowd. It had suggested proper lighting of the entire pathway from Marakkoottom to Valiya Nadappanthal. The Central force had also proposed a stretcher station with sufficient number of units at Marakkottom. It had also sought safe and hygienic toilet facility at several points along the trekking path.
Situated in the deep forests of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Sabarimala has a sacred forest ecosystem and this curtails the freedom of the temple administration and the government in making elaborate arrangements for the conduct of the pilgrim season. In fact, the arrangements made by the government are ad hoc in nature, and this leaves the thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy hillock to many hardships.