The Devi temple at Puttingal had conducted fireworks displays that caused the biggest fireworks related accident in Kerala on Sunday night without permission from the authorities.
The accident happened towards the end of the pyrotechnic displays which were canvassed on a competitive basis.
The temple management committee had applied to the district administration for permission to hold the fireworks displays. However, Additional District Magistrate, Kollam, refused permission for the fireworks on finding that the programme was being organised on a competitive basis.
The magistrate had communicated the order to the Secretary of the Paravoor Puttingal Devaswom Managing Committee noting that action would be taken under the Explosives Act if the ban order is violated.
However, the temple committee disregarded the warning and went ahead with the programme. Even posters appeared in the locality saying that the order would be defied and the fireworks would be organised on a competitive basis. They had reportedly got support from some politicians and officials to defy the order. The police did not try to stop the stocking of the explosive materials and conduct of the pyrotechnics despite the ban.
There were complaints from some of those having buildings and houses close to the temple. However, only one of them had approached the district authorities with a complaint. There are also reports that neighbours were threatened to submission.
There are different versions as to how the accident occurred. It is not clear whether it occurred because of human error or on account of malfunctioning of rocket type fireworks. One version has that a rocket type firework called ‘Sooryakanthi’ had reportedly misfired leading to various types of fireworks stocked in a store house (Kambapura) catching fire. This led to an explosion that smashed the pillars and roof tiles of the building and parts of temple structures nearby.
Another version is that that fireworks material kept in an autorikshaw parked nearby first caught fire first from sparks flying around from skyrockets. A third version has it that negligence of a worker had caused the fire in the store house.
Many people were killed or injured from flying debris and other materials from the explosion while those who were near the Kambapura sustained burns. The fireworks displays had started past midnight and continued well past 3 pm. By that time, about three fourth of the explosive material had been used, and many people had left for home. Otherwise the tragedy would have been bigger.
The police had arrested five persons in connection with the incident. Police said that the contractors did not have proper licences. The State government has announced, after an emergency meeting of the Cabinet held in Kollam, that a judicial enquiry would be conducted into the incident. Retired High Court judge N. Krishnan Nair would be entrusted with the enquiry and he would be asked to submit his report in six months.