RAF, NDRF men salvage situation; women, children faint
A near-stampede situation has been prevailing in the Sabarimala Sannidhanam since the early hours of Tuesday, as the crowd turned uncontrollable.
Many pilgrims, especially women and children, fainted. Personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) have been managing the crowd since Monday night, as the police were overwhelmed.
It took 14-16 hours for the pilgrims to reach the Sannidhanam from Pampa. A group of pilgrims from Kannur told The Hindu that they started climbing Neelimala from Pampa 15 minutes past midnight and reached the Valiyanadappanthal only around 4 p.m.
Overcrowding outside the barricade at the entrance of the Valiyanadappanthal created chaos half-an-hour past midnight. A major stampede was averted, thanks to the intervention of the RAF and NDRF personnel, a volunteer of Ayyappa Seva Sanghom said.
The police’s failure to divert the pilgrims returning from Sabarimala through a Bailey Bridge also contributed to the overcrowding along the Forest Office-Valiyanadappanthal stretch. The virtual queue system went haywire.
The drinking water supply to pilgrims waiting for long in the iron barricades was affected because of poor arrangements. Many pilgrims were found gasping for breath in the congestion caused by the bottleneck at the entry point of the queue leading to the Holy-18 steps before the giant peepal tree at the Lower Tirumuttom.
Pilgrims who climb the broad steps leading to the Lower Tirumuttom from the Valiyanadapanthal have to enter the narrow barricade sandwiched between the peepal tree and the fire place (Aazhi) after much push and pull.
In the previous years, during the rush days of the pilgrim season, the Travancore Devaswom Board used to extend the darshan time by two hours, opening the temple earlier, at 3 a.m., and closing it 30 minutes late (11.30 p.m.). However, the temple administration is yet to extend the darshan time this year.
The police have been blocking pilgrims at Pampa, Sabaripeedhom and Marakkoottom at regular intervals since Monday evening to regulate the flow to the Sannidhanam.