Millennium Post

Fixing culpability

In a sensible decision on Tuesday, the Kerala High Court banned the use of high-decibel crackers and fireworks display after sunset in places of worship across the state following the temple tragedy in Kollam that has claimed 110 lives. More than setting out firm guidelines on the use of fireworks, the court came down heavily on the state police. The bench said that the police failed to provide basic safety to devotees who had gathered at the Kollam temple late on Saturday night. In response, the government and police said that temple officials ignored a ban on fireworks and went ahead anyway. But did a single policeman not notice the explosives that were collected for the show? It was a question also raised by the court. The bench went on to question how the police ignored the huge stash of fireworks that was accumulated at the temple in Kollam for a lavish display to coincide with the annual festival on Saturday night. Gross negligence and a dereliction of duty on the part of the police, which failed to carry out the district administration’s orders amounts to a violation of human rights, the judges said. Whether it amounts to a violation of human rights is an argument left for another day. Admittedly, the court is right in laying into the police. But the police aren’t entirely responsible for the spate of events that left over 100 people dead. As this column has stated in the past, a significant portion of the blame must lie with the temple authorities and the local politicians, who made it difficult for the police to carry out their duties. Suffice to say, this column made the same point earlier: “As per reports, the tragedy was brought upon by fireworks that were set off, even though the District Collector had refused to give his permission for the same. It is imperative to note that the Kollam district administration’s decision to deny permission for the fireworks was based on reports from the local police that the temple authorities planned to hold a competitive pyrotechnics display—a practice common to many religious festivals in and outside Kerala. Even the local tehsildar's report had recommended that temple authorities must acquire the consent of neighbouring houses before displaying fireworks. Local residents had complained of the damage brought upon their houses due to fireworks. But the temple authorities sought no such consent from the neighbouring houses and failed to abide by any safety measure. Backed by local religious groups and politicians hoping to extract electoral mileage during election season, the temple administration managed to subvert due process and the rule of law at every step.” Unfortunately, in these incidents, criminals within government almost always get away. If we can’t fix culpability for acute calamities, such crimes will continue to occur.
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