Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan, who was on his way to the Sabarimala Temple, Wednesday engaged in a brief war of words with the police here over restrictions on private vehicles heading to Pamba, the last entry point to the Lord Ayyappa shrine.
Though IPS officer Yatish Chandra said the minister could travel in his official vehicle, Radhakrishnan preferred to proceed to Pamba from here in a state-run KSRTC bus as a mark of protest against the restrictions imposed by state authorities causing difficulties to pilgrims.
Radhakrishnan, the Minister of State for Shipping and Finance, arrived at the base camp here, located about 20 km from Sabarimala, a day after the visit of opposition Congress-led UDF MLAs and BJP MPs to take stock of facilities offered to devotees.
After reviewing facilities, the minister asked the Chandra, why only KSRTC vehicles were being allowed till Pamba and asked them to allow private vehicles also.
“You (police) are unnecessarily harassing devotees. Why only KSRTC vehicles are being allowed till Pamba? This is not good for Sabarimala pilgrims. Private vehicles should also be allowed,” the minister said.
Chandra, however, said that parking lots in Pamba had been washed away in the August floods. He said, the KSRTC buses would not park at Pamba and would be returning with pilgrims.
But if private vehicles were allowed, they would create traffic blocks causing difficulties to pilgrims.
The senior police official explained to the union minister about the features of Pamba, an environmental fragile area. He also said if the union minister gives him in writing to allow private vehicles to Pamba, he was prepared to allow all vehicles.
Accompanied by the BJP state leaders and activists, the minister later interacted with the devotees especially those who arrived from neighbouring states.
Carrying the customary ‘irumudikkettu’ (the sacred offerings to Lord Ayyappa), Radhakrishnan later headed to Pamba in the state-run bus along with other leaders and activists.
“The government should correct itself, otherwise the people will correct them”, he told reporters in Pamba.
The minister is expected to reach the Sannidhanam later in the day.
Senior leaders and activists of the Opposition Congress-led UDF, who staged protests at Pamba and Nilackal Tuesday, had been booked for defying prohibitory orders on Tuesday.
BJP MPs, V Muraleedharan and Nalin Kumar Kateel, along with a group of other party leaders, also visited the base camp here and Pamba and reviewed infrastructure facilities.
They had also interacted with devotees and enquired about the facilities offered at the shrine complex.
The Lord Ayyappa Temple was opened on November 16 evening for the over two-month-long pilgrim seasons amidst tension.