Thanjavur chariot fire  - A tragedy that could have well been avoided

Villagers say they made repeated requests to shift high-voltage power line, but to no avail

April 27, 2022 10:36 pm | Updated April 28, 2022 10:03 am IST - CHENNAI

The chariot that came into contact with a high-voltage electric cable, killing 11 persons.

The chariot that came into contact with a high-voltage electric cable, killing 11 persons. | Photo Credit: M. Moorthy

The tragedy that claimed the lives of 11 persons and injured 17 others in Kalimedu could have well been avoided, locals say. Two or three factors were missed while planning the event, and a set of changed circumstances rendered the villagers impervious to the dangers on the procession route.

The procession had not taken place for two years during the pandemic, though it had been held regularly for several decades before that. The villagers said that in the meantime, the height of the main road had been raised substantially. The height of the cart that pulls the idol had also gone up, with the extra decorations and serial lighting that was set up like a canopy atop the idol. This is why, when the procession tried to take a U-turn, the top of the cart came into contact with a high-tension line and a disaster ensued, according to several villagers, some of whom were eye-witnesses to the tragedy.

Raja, 30, of Kalimedu, an eyewitness, recalled that the residents of his village had made repeated requests to the Electricity Board to shift the high-voltage power line from the main road to the agricultural fields. But their requests were not heeded.

The usual process is to switch off supply to the power cables on the route that processions with tall idols take, or to deploy volunteers armed with tall wooden poles to lift the cables and ensure that they do not pose a threat to the procession. Both these options were not exercised in this particular case, as per initial reports.

Central Zone Inspector-General of Police V. Balakrishnan said that while power supply to the low-tension cable remained suspended during the procession, the high-tension cable remained live.

Addressing the media at the accident site, Thanjavur District Fire Officer (in-Charge) Banupriya said preliminary inquiries had also indicated that the accident had occurred due to the presence of a high-tension power cable on the main road.

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