Managing the Masses
Thiruvananthapuram: Makara Samkranthi Day has seen several crowd-related incidents at Sabarimala: a fire in 1952 killed 66, a stampede in 1999 killed 53 at Pampa hilltop, and a stampede this month killed 102.
The site of the last incident, Uppupara, is part of an illegal route to the temple. The Justice Chandrashekharan Commission that had probed the 1999 incident recommended that Uppupara, part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, be developed as another base station to ease the crowd at Pampa. The government never acted, yet made no move to block the illegal route or monitor it properly. Last fortnight, the site had three cops and lakhs of pilgrims when the stampede happened. More pilgrims than usual were using take the rubble-ridden forest track after the government had closed a major official route.
The authorised routes are monitored, though crowds can still go out of control. During the peak days, the police strength goes up to 1,000. The National Disaster Response Force and Rapid Action Force too are deployed, besides specially trained commandos, bomb disposal squads and rapid action teams at the temple and its premises. Movement is monitored on camera.
The queue at the Pampa base camp is lined with ropes but one snapped this season, killing a pilgrim. Devotees are sent to the shrine only in batches; vehicular traffic is regulated 50 km away. The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages Sabarimala Temple, plans to open a new base camp at Nilakkal, near Pampa. A new
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