Kerala High Court directs TDB to ensure water, other facilities to Sabarimala devotees at Edathavalams

It directed the concerned Assistant Commissioners in charge of the Edathavalams/ temples to conduct an inspection.

ByPTI

Published Dec 26, 2023 | 11:47 AMUpdatedDec 26, 2023 | 11:48 AM

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The Kerala High Court on Monday, 25 December, held a special sitting and issued directions to the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) to provide water, snacks and other facilities at “Edathavalams” to devotees on the way to Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala for the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage.

A bench of Justices Anil K Narendran and G Girish held the special sitting taking note of news reports claiming that devotees, including children, were stuck on the roads to Sabarimala for over 12 hours without food or water.

The bench directed the TDB to ensure water, snacks and other facilities are provided at the “Edathavalams”, which are short-term resting places for pilgrims.

Reports to be submitted before the court

“We make it clear that any failure on the part of the Travancore Devaswom Board in providing annadhanam, drinking water, toilet facilities, etc. to such pilgrims will be viewed seriously, especially when the position of the Board in managing the affairs of the Devaswom is analogous to that of trustees,” it said.

It directed the concerned Assistant Commissioners in charge of the Edathavalams/ temples to conduct an inspection, forthwith, and submit reports before the Devaswom Commissioner with specific reference to the issues faced by the pilgrims on 24 and 25 December.

“Those reports shall be placed before this court along with an affidavit of the Devaswom Commissioner, explaining the facts and circumstances,” the bench said.

Related: Police prepare for crowd management at Sabarimala Mandala Puja

Crowd control

The court also said that when the Virtual-Q booking reaches 80,000, the number of spot registrations are limited and the footfall at Sannidhanam and Pamba reach their holding capacity, the Chief Police Coordinator has to restrict or even prohibit the entry of pilgrims without any registration or booking.

This is to ensure safe and comfortable darshan to pilgrims having Virtual-Q or spot booking, it said.

The court also directed the State Police chief to overall supervise the crowd control operations in and around the shrine and to deploy additional police personnel if necessary.

In view of news reports stating that pilgrims’ vehicles were stopped on the roads at various places for hours on end due to the huge rush at Sabarimala, the court directed the TDB to request the pilgrims at Sannidhanam, through the public address systems, to leave Sannidhanam after darshan as early as possible.

This will help to reduce footfall at the Sannidhanam and Pamba and pave the way for pilgrims stranded at various places enroute to Sabarimala to move towards the shrine for darshan, the court said.

‘Pilgrims should cooperate’

“The pilgrims shall also be informed through the public address systems at the Edathavalams/ temples and also through police patrolling vehicles deployed for sectoral patrolling, to cooperate with the restrictions imposed, since the number of footfall at Sannidhanam and Pamba has reached the maximum holding capacity, and that steps are being taken to ensure that all the pilgrims have darshan, at the earliest,” the bench said.

During the day, devotees, from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, were seen on TV channels claiming that they had been stopped at various places on the route to Sabarimala without any arrangements for food and water.

Even devotees at Sannidhanam in Sabarimala were seen complaining that they have been stuck in the queues for several hours.

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Increased footfalls

While the matter was being heard in the court, the government said that the total footfall at Sannidhanam on 24 December was more than 1,25,000.

The government’s lawyer and amicus curiae N Raghuraj also told the court that a large number of pilgrims who had darshan in the afternoon of December 24 were still at Sannidhanam waiting for the Mandala Pooja and that too was adding to the footfall there.

Meanwhile, TDB president PS Prasanth told reporters that there is an issue of huge influx of devotees during Mandala puja.

Regarding the arrangements made to deal with the increase in numbers, he said that parking numbers were increased from 7,000 to 8,000 and gave strict instructions that vehicles be stopped in areas where water and food is available.

“Spoke to senior police officers of the Pathanamthitta district and they informed me that vehicles were stopped in areas where water and food were available. We believe no one will have to go back without getting darshan of Lord Ayyappa,” he said.

Police told the media that 88,000 were booked through a virtual queue on Monday and people are also expected to turn up without any registration.

It also said that it has taken steps to ensure that pilgrims are not stopped along the pilgrimage route.

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