Safety first: On fire tragedy in Tamil Nadu

The tragedy on Wednesday at Kalimedu in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, which claimed the lives of 11 persons and left 17 injured after a small chariot touched a live wire of the high tension category and caught fire, could have been averted by just following laid down procedures. The idol-laden chariot was being taken out in a procession as part of an annual festival to perpetuate the memory of Saivaite saint Thirunavukkarasar. Almost 10 days earlier, two persons had died in a stampede at the annual Chithirai festival of the Madurai Meenakshi temple, which attracts lakhs of devotees. Ten years ago, an event that almost mirrored Kalimedu happened in Gudiyatham, Vellore district, killing five persons. What is disturbing is the regularity with which these events occur during religious or temple festivals. The fact that the State has such a dubious record should compel the authorities to adhere to the rule book as the protection of human life is a must.

Even as the findings of a one-member official panel and the police investigation are eagerly awaited, there are a number of questions that the authorities need to probe. These include whether the organisers, who have been holding the festival for over 90 years, had permission from the local officials; why there had to be a procession during the early hours; whether such an event could take place without the knowledge or the approval of the local authorities, and why power supply from the overhead HT line was not switched off, whereas this was not the case with regard to low-tension lines in the area. What is obvious is the lack of coordination among the electricity, highways, local administration and revenue departments, which ought to have been there for an event such as this. The height of the road was raised since the time of the last procession, but evidently the organisers did not account for this. The scope for such events occurring can be reduced drastically, if not eliminated, if the authorities strictly enforced existing guidelines. Though the institution which had organised the festival is said to be outside the purview of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, the authorities can still be proactive, at least in sensitising organisers of such events about safety guidelines and insisting that devotees who accompany a temple car or chariot are aware of the risks. The Government should make public the reports submitted by agencies that inquire into such events and issue regular updates in the follow up action. It is incumbent upon devotees to ensure that safety norms are implemented in letter and spirit. It is only through collective efforts that tragedies such as the one in Kalimedu can be averted.

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Printable version | Apr 30, 2022 12:08:05 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/safety-first-on-fire-tragedy-in-tamil-nadu/article65367165.ece