Kerala High Court issues directions to Sabarimala temple authorities, police over increased footfall

The directions came in the wake of increased footfall on Saturday which resulted in crowd management and traffic control issues.

ByPTI

Published Dec 11, 2022 | 8:09 PM Updated Dec 11, 2022 | 8:09 PM

SabarimalaTemple

With an increase in footfall at the famed Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala during the ongoing pilgrimage season, the Kerala High Court on Sunday, 11 December, issued a slew of directions to the police and temple authorities regarding crowd management and control of vehicular traffic to ensure smooth ‘darshan’ for pilgrims.

In the absence of Covid-19 restrictions, unlike the previous two years, devotees have turned up in huge numbers this year at Sabarimala in the Pathanamthitta district of the state for the annual two-month-long Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage which began on 17 November.

The increase in footfall also resulted in crowd management and traffic control issues, especially on Saturday when close to a lakh booking were made via the virtual queue system and around 90,000 devotees arrived for ‘darshan’, the high court noted in its special sitting held during the day.

A few police personnel on duty sustained minor injuries due to issues in crowd management, the court was told.

In view of these developments, the previous day and the fact that virtual queue bookings were above one lakh for Monday, a bench of Justices Anil K Narendran and PG Ajithkumar held a special sitting and directed the District Collector and the District Police Chief of Pathanamthitta to evolve a crowd management plan when the expected footfall is above 75,000 per day.

‘Darshan’ time can be increased

The plan would be evolved as per the virtual queue bookings and in consultation with the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and the Special Commissioner, Sabarimala, the bench said.

Sabarimala

Devotees thronging Sabarimala. Photo: Supplied

It also said that whether the sanctum sanctorum of Sabarimala Sannidhanam, which is open for 18 hours a day, can remain open for an extra 30 minutes or one hour was for the TDB to consider in consultation with the tantri (priest) of Sabarimala.

Regarding the management of vehicular traffic on the routes to Sabarimala, the court directed the District Police chief to arrange patrolling on motorcycles when the movement of vehicles is blocked for long periods.

“In case the movement of vehicles is blocked for a considerably long period, the Travancore Devaswom Board shall make necessary arrangements for providing ‘chukkuvellam’ (water) and biscuits to pilgrims in such vehicles,” it said.

It further directed that when parking grounds at Nilakkal in Pathanamthitta reach the maximum capacity, entry of vehicles has to be regulated appropriately by the police.

Parking restrictions should be made known

“The restrictions imposed on the parking of vehicles at Nilakkal parking grounds shall be made known to the pilgrims, through the public address systems at edathavalams (camps),” the bench said. Edathavalams are halting points for pilgrims.

The TDB was also directed to ensure that the parking contractor engages sufficient staff to ensure proper parking of vehicles.

‘The court’s directions came on three separate pleas initiated by it on its own with one regarding the management of the virtual queue system and the other two based on individual complaints on restrictions on the entry of vehicles from Nilakkal to Pamba and difficulties faced by pilgrims at Nilakkal and Pamba in the absence of queue system for the passengers boarding KSRTC buses.

All three were taken up in the special sitting in view of the crowd management issues faced on Saturday at the shrine.

Opposition alleges failure

Meanwhile, the Congress-led UDF opposition alleged that the Left government completely failed to be prepared for the huge footfall expected this year at Sabarimala.

Leader of Opposition in the state assembly VD Satheesan alleged that the state government and the TDB failed to realise that number of pilgrims would increase post-COVID.

He said that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the ministers concerned should visit Sabarimala to take stock of the situation and issue necessary directions.

Also read: Kerala is planning perfect pit stops for Sabarimala pilgrims

Satheesan also suggested that a responsible minister be given full control over what is happening at the temple till the pilgrimage season gets over.

The 41-day Mandala puja festival will conclude on 27 December.

Thereafter, the temple will be opened again on December 30 for the Makaravilakku pilgrimage, which will end on 14 January.

The shrine will be closed on 20 January 2023 concluding the pilgrimage season.

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