Severe hardships, it seem, are in store for Sabarimala pilgrims this year too. With six months for the two-month annual pilgrim season at Sabarimala and the monsoon too is in the offing, yet the key pilgrim amenity projects promised by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and the High Power Committee (HPC) for implementing the Sabarimala Master Plan do not appear to be materialising.
Lack of coordination, commitment, and will on the part of HPC in executing the pilgrim-amenity schemes had been blamed for the situation. There were also allegations of an ego clash among members of the HPC, TDB, and the Forest Department “slowing down” certain key schemes.
In such circumstances, pilgrims will be left to bear with the extreme lack of amenities at south India’s major pilgrim centre as in the previous years.
Official sources told The Hindu that Special Commissioner appointed by the Kerala High Court K. Babu had sought an ‘action-taken report’ from the HPC, TDB, and government departments on the directions issued by the court for improving the pilgrim facility at Sabarimala three months ago.
In its 28-page order of February 6, the Devaswom Bench of the court comprising Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice A.V. Ramakrishna Pillai categorically stated that the “TDB and the HPC should take immediate steps for installation of sewage treatment plants (STP) at the Sabarimala Sannidhanam, giving it top priority”.
Absence of an STP at the Sannidhanam has been posing an alarming pollution threat to the Pampa as well as the forest over the past several years. The high court had even earlier taken up suo motu the pollution menace in the Pampa on more than one occasion. The court order further stressed the need to “strengthen the environmental wing of the Devaswom Works Department at Sabarimala by employing at least one junior scientific assistant to support the environmental engineer there”.
The high court also directed the TDB and the HPC to “augment the existing facility to provide Annadanam (free feeding of devotees) by constructing new Annadanam centres at Pampa and the Sannidhanam”.
“Semi-permanent structures that are now being auctioned to vendors at Pampa Manalpuram (river bed) shall be utilised, in the first instance, for Annadanam. Shops and such other structures shall be auctioned out only after ensuring the availability of the entire space required for Annadanam through different agencies,” the order said. This was in the larger interests of “ensuring minimum commercialisation and to check exploitation of pilgrims,” it added.
The Court had also directed the HPC, TDB and the Forest department to take necessary steps to ensure uninterrupted drinking supply to Sabarimala Sannidhanam by augmenting the capacity of Kunnar Dam.
Proper maintenance of the cow shelters or goshalas at Pampa and Nilackal, provision of adequate urinals without charging any user-fee, oxygen parlours, medical centres, resting places, etc., on the traditional path as well as the Swami Ayyappan Road leading to the Sannidhanam, computerised billing facility at the Appam-Aravana counters of the Dhanalakshmi Bank, permanent arrangement to employ staff for Appam-Aravna preparation, etc., are the other directions mentioned in the court order.
Talking to reporters, earlier, in January, the TDB member, Subhash Vasu, had announced the Board’s decision to construct four Annadana Mandapams with retiring rooms for pilgrims at Sabarimala well before the next pilgrim season itself. He said the Board had already identified devotee-sponsors for executing the project.