Kerala fire: As VVIPs make a beeline for Kollam, several questions on the ground

“Police personnel who should have been completing inquest and postmortem of bodies will be guarding the PM and other VIPs today.”

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Updated: April 10, 2016 9:27 pm
Kerala, Kollam temple fire, Kerala temple fire, Kollam temple, Puttingal temple, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Modi Kerala temple, People walk past debris after a fire broke out at a temple in Kollam in the southern state of Kerala, India, April 10, 2016.  REUTERS/Sivaram V

With 36 days left for the Assembly elections in Kerala, there is enough time for politicians to schedule and organise rallies. But by Sunday evening, at least a handful of India’s top political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, will be in the southern districts of Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam, thanks to the massive temple accident that killed over 100 people on Sunday morning.

People might not know why they think of visiting a disaster zone like this within hours of a tragedy, but the leaders sure seem to know what they are doing. There are still questions being raised: “How does their visit help the victims or those engaged in rescue operations? Will seeing national leaders elevate the morale of untrained villagers helping police collect human remains from the accident spot without even gloves? Are they bringing any kind of medicines that could do miracles to the deceased?”

Senior police officers in the state capital are now busy gathering the forces needed to ‘sanitise’ the VVIP routes – the term used for clearing a stretch of road for politicians with Z-category security.

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One of them said at least 500 police personnel need to be deployed for the Prime Minister along with police vehicles, which could have been used for rescue operations and shifting doctors and medical facilities. Rahul Gandhi is no different, as he too enjoys a similar security cover. “Approximately 1,000 police personnel will have to be deployed to ensure the security of both VVIPs today,” he said.

And what if the leaders visit the victims in hospital? “Then the situation would get worse, it will delay treatments in this critical situation. How will their visits help us?” asks a senior doctor from a private hospital deployed at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College after the disaster.

What if these VIPs are curious to see the accident spot too? The temple is about 16 km from Kollam town or about 60 km north of Thiruvananthapuram. On the Kollam-Thiruvananthapuram route, a road turns left at Paravur Kavala, taking you to the Puttingal temple, the accident spot. The narrow village lane struggles to accommodate two trucks at a time and will certainly choke if leaders and their entourages end up here.

With the death toll rising beyond 100, dozens of police personnel and medical officers are now busy completing procedures at the accident spot. Eyewitnesses describe scenes of human remains scattered around the temple being taken away by police and medical officers.

A senior police officer, who is on his way to Paravur, said these visit will not only delay the inquest and other procedures, but also contaminate evidence and delay postmortems in hospitals. “Police personnel who should have been completing inquest and postmortem of bodies will be guarding the PM and other VIPs today,” he said.

The accident spot is already disturbed. “We suspect that many more body parts are scattered underneath building and the debris. Before we prepare an inquest, we need to prepare Scene Mahazar and Seizure Mahazar, each consists minimum 15 pages with inputs police and examiners collect from the spot. Then there is the inquest, another 15-page document. Before the postmortem and disposal or preservation of body, we need to collect DNA samples as several bodies are mutilated beyond recognition. Will these VIPs help us to do all that? Would they be able to land up here without a convoy and a battalion police? Already we are short staffed, now we need to drag more than half of our strength to deploy their security cover,” said another senior police officer.

Neither Kerala, nor India, are new to this disaster tourism. In June 2013, then union Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had asked the Uttarakhand government not to allow any VIPs to land in the flood ravaged areas as it had been a major hindrance to relief works.

During the 2011 Sabarimala stampede, also, several VIPs rushed to the spot to make announcements for a photo opportunity. A former DGP said those visits played a major role in delaying rescue operations and none of the announcements they made at the spot were implemented later. “Several policemen were promised refunds for their treatments in private hospitals. But that announcement was never implemented and they to sell their properties to pay those bills,” said the retired DGP.

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