Even as the authorities in Kerala began sending home the bodies of those killed in Friday's stampede near the hill-shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala, the State Crime Branch set in motion an investigation into the tragedy on Sunday.

The investigation, instituted by the State government as a prelude to a proposed high level judicial inquiry, began with S. Surendran, Superintendent of Police, Crime Branch, Kochi, visiting the site at Pulmedu with a team of forensic experts and questioning witnesses to the stampede, which claimed 102 lives. Most of the victims were from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Survivors to be quizzed

The police team, which ruled out any foul play triggering the stampede, will take evidence from survivors who are undergoing treatment at the government medical college hospital at Kottayam and submit its report in three or four days.

Earlier in the day, A. Chandrasekhar, Additional Director-General of Police (ADGP), in charge of security at Sabarimala, visited the scene of accident.

The region, which witnessed one of the worst stampedes in the history of Sabarimala pilgrimage, wore a desolate look on Sunday, with provisions, crockery, utensils and other materials strewn all over. According to people still stranded in the area, which lies well inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve, more than a lakh pilgrims had assembled there on the day to witness the Makaravilakku, the high point of the Sabarimala pilgrimage, which coincides with Makarasamkramam.

Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan on Saturday announced that the State would institute a judicial inquiry and that the State government would extend financial assistance of Rs. 5 lakh to the families of each of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 to the seriously injured and Rs. 25,000 to those with minor injuries. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced an assistance of Rs. 1 lakh to the families of each victim and the governments of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, an assistance of Rs. 1 lakh each to the families of the pilgrims from their States who lost their lives.

Of the 102 pilgrims killed, seven were from Kerala and the rest from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Five of the victims were children.

The State government made all arrangements to take the bodies of the victims to their homes.

Kerala is in mourning and all government programmes till Monday have been cancelled.