Demand for ban on fireworks display: Government calls all-party meet

Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala government on Tuesday called an All-Party Meeting on April 14 to discuss whether or not to ban fireworks display during festivities in places of worship in the backdrop of the Kollam temple tragedy which has claimed 109 lives and left over 350 injured.

Talking reporters here after a meeting with senior officials and doctors attending to the injured, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy also announced earmarking of Rs 20 crore for relief and rehabilitation of the victims of the April 10 fireworks tragedy at the century-old Putingal Devi temple at Paravoor, about 70 km from here.

Rs 10 crore had already been put at the disposal of the Kollam District Collector for immediate action, he said. The government will formulate a policy on fireworks after reaching a consensus at the All-Party Meeting on Thursday, he said after chairing the meeting this morning during which facilities being provided to the injured undergoing treatment at various hospitals were discussed.

Chandy's announcement came amid growing calls for banning fireworks displays in the backdrop of Kollam accident. The Kerala High Court is set to hear later today one of its judge's suggestion that high-decibel crackers be banned to prevent man-made tragedies such as the one in Kollam.

The accident occurred during an 'unauthorised' display of fireworks in the wee hours of Sunday after a spark from a firecracker fell on the storehouse containing crackers, triggering explosions.

Meanwhile, BJP state President Kummanam Rajasekaran opposed any complete ban on the fireworks display in temples. It should be allowed with sufficient safety measures, he told reporters, adding certain groups were trying to make 'political gain' by raising the demand for banning fireworks display.

State Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, who addressed media in Alappuzha, said as the state was heading for polls, the government cannot take a unilateral decision. After discussions, the government would move forward in this regard, he said. He made it clear that strict instructions have been given to police to carry out raids on illegal cracker manufacturing units.

Chennithala also said action would be taken against those who used banned chemicals for making gunpowder and crackers, especially in view of the coming 'Vishu' festival on April 14.

Chandy said, "Our full concentration is on providing the best treatment to the patients on a war footing and we need to work unitedly to face the situation."

Medical teams which arrived here with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited the Kollam temple on Sunday, were still camping in the state to assist local doctors in treating the patients, he said.

At present, there was no need to shift the patients to other states, he said, adding, "We are taking the advice of the experts." The PM had offered to provide all help to take the patients to hospitals in Mumbai and Delhi, Chandy said.

Asked about difference of opinion between Kollam District Collector A Shainamol and Kollam Police Commissioner P Prakash on the conduct of the fireworks display despite a ban on it, Chandy said all these issues would be looked into.

"This is the time to focus all our energy on providing treatment to the injured," he stressed. Chandy said that out of 109 killed in the state's worst fireworks mishap, thirteen bodies were yet to be identified. However, police have received complaints that 21 persons from nearby places of Paravoor were missing since the mishap.

The condition of 27 injured persons, including seven in Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital, was serious. So far, a total of 1,039 persons were treated as outpatient in various hospitals in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, he said.

Chandy said that treatment for the victims was free and the government would bear all the expenses. No private hospital should charge any fees from the victims, he said.

The Chief Minister also said the government would take a decision after receiving a report from the Revenue Secretary on the steps to be taken for the protection of two boys -- Kishore and Krishna, who have been orphaned after their parents died in the devastating accident.

Chennithala made it clear that the government would take stern action to crack down on fireworks that cause heavy explosion. To a question on the controversy over the conduct of the display even after the district administration had banned it, he said the judicial probe and Crime Branch investigation would look into all issues connected with the accident.

"Any person found guilty will be brought before the law. But, now it is not the time for any row. All effort now is to help the people injured in the accident," Chennithala said.

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