The state government submitted in the Kerala High Court Tuesday that it was not averse to small private vehicles carrying Sabarimala pilgrims up till Pamba, the last point from where devotees begin an upward ascent on foot to reach the Ayyappa shrine on top of the hill. This was a marked change from its earlier position of restricting private vehicles of pilgrims at Nilackal, citing security risks. Pamba, located 18 kms away from Nilakkal, is connected by an all-season road that courses through the Ranni forest division.
Based on the government’s response on the matter, the High Court allowed Sabarimala pilgrims to go up to Pamba in their private vehicles during the ongoing annual mandalam-makaravilakku festival. Only cars with up to 12 seats are allowed to go up till Pamba. Vehicle operators will be ordered to drop the pilgrims at Pamba and return to Nilakkal where there are ample facilities set up by the Travancore devaswom Board, which administers the Sabarimala shrine, for parking. The state government is running chain services of state transport buses between Nilakkal and Pamba at regular intervals.
The police argued in the court earlier that allowing private vehicles up till Pamba will lead to severe traffic jams, clogging of the road and even accidents.
In the backdrop of the 2018 floods and its impact on the river-bank at Pamba and adjoining facilities, the government had taken the unilateral decision of banning all private vehicle transport till Pamba during the last pilgrimage season. Instead, it developed the main base camp at Nilakkal to park vehicles and asked pilgrims to take state transport buses to Pamba. But the decision caused major outrage among the pilgrims who complained that apart from causing inconvenience, they were also forced to shell out more money during the trip.