Smell of burnt flesh. Pools of blood. Human limbs strewn all over in the blast. Crumbled buildings. The temple ground of Puttingal Devi Temple at Paravoor in Kollam reminded a warzone after an aerial strike on that fateful day in April last.


The day broke with the news of the fireworks tragedy at Puttingal Temple on 10 April 2016. As many as 110 lives perished in the tragedy. More than 1400 people suffered burns and injuries. Some of them are still nursing wounds. Survivors are yet to recover from the trauma. Children who witnessed the tragedy still can’t forget what they saw on that fateful night. Every family in the locality had a victim or two… or more. Kerala mourned for weeks.

The district administration had objected to the competitive fireworks display as part of the annual temple festival. Despite, the order, the temple authorities carried on with the fireworks, which ended up in a ghastly tragedy.


A minor lapse and a spark was enough to set the stockpiles of gunpowder on fire. In the spirited competition, the safety precautions were thrown to the winds. An eye-witness video showed the visuals of a labourer running back to the building where the gunpowder was stored. He entered the building quite oblivious about a spark from the fireworks had landed in the pack of firecrackers on his shoulders. The building blew off in seconds. Massive concrete slabs fell over people, crushing them under it.

  

Hospitals in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram were crowded with people injured in the blast. The entire nation was shocked. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sidestepped protocol and rushed to Kollam. He chaired a special state cabinet meet at Kollam and took stock of the situation. Special medical team from Delhi landed in Kollam and a naval ship also reached the Kollam coast to provide any possible help.


There were allegations that the police did not stop the fireworks competition even after the district collector denied permission to it. Some political leaders intervened to allow fireworks at the temple, it was alleged. Police arrested the office bearers of the temple committee and the contractor of the fireworks. The Crime Branch is yet to file the charge sheet in the case, which has 52 accused, 1658 witnesses, 110 postmortem reports and 450 pieces of evidence!

The state-central governments provided Rs.12 lakhs to the kith and kin of the victims and Rs.2.5 lakhs for the injured. Some of the injured are yet to recover from the physical ailments. The compensation for damaged houses is yet to be disbursed.  

The state government was quick to announce a judicial investigation into the tragedy. Retired Justice Krishnan Nair was named as the single-man commission within weeks. After six months, the commission resigned alleging government apathy. The government had not granted office or office staff for the commission. In February this year, another commission was formed, under Justice PS Gopinathan. The new commission also remains a non-starter without office or basic facilities.