Kerala toll 111, ban on night firecrackers (Roundup)

Kollam/Thiruvananthapuram, April 12 (IANS) The man who organised the deadly fireworks show at the Kerala temple died on Tuesday, taking the toll in the tragedy to 111, even as the Kerala High Court banned high decibel fireworks at night.

Surendran, 67, who had the contract for the fireworks display at the Puttingal Devi temple in Paravur town, succumbed to his injuries at the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, two days after he was admitted with 90 percent burn injuries.

He was the second victim of the Sunday mayhem to die on Tuesday. The first was Sathyan, 55, who too died at the same Thiruvananthapuram hospital.

More than 350 people were badly injured, suffering burns and other injuries. Most were being treated in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. Around 25 of them were in serious condition.

Thirteen bodies were yet to be identified, officials said, while 21 people remained unaccounted for since Sunday morning.

An apparently illegal fireworks display set off massive explosions and a huge fire at the temple just before dawn, raining death and destruction in the area.

Surendran had been named an accused by police. His son Umesh, who suffered 50 percent burn injuries, is undergoing treatment at the hospital.

Temple officials arrested for the tragedy told police that Surendran was given Rs.7 lakh to conduct the fireworks display.

Five temple officials who absconded after the tragedy surrendered to police on Monday night. A sixth was arrested on Tuesday, Deputy Superintendent of Police Radhakrishnan Pillai of the Crime Branch said.

Earlier, police had detained five workers of the now dead contractor Surendran.

In Kochi, the Kerala High Court ordered a ban on exploding high decibel firecrackers at night. Firework shows during the day too should not exceed the decibel levels of 125-145.

A division bench of Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Anu Sivaraman also came down heavily on Kerala Police for not preventing the Kollam deaths.

The judges asked if the probe by the Crime Branch into the incident was enough or whether the Central Bureau of Investigation should be roped in. The judges demanded to know if “anti-national forces” were involved with the Sunday explosions.

Authorities in Kollam on Tuesday took steps to conduct DNA tests on unclaimed bodies. Officials said family members of those missing to reach Kollam on Wednesday with identity proof of the missing ones.

The Kerala government has, meanwhile, called an all-party meeting on Thursday to see if a consensus can be reached on total or partial ban on firecrackers, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said.

There had been suggestions that fireworks which give more prominence to visual treats must be taken up and sound levels be brought to the minimum, like in the UAE and Singapore, he said.

Police have been asked to conduct raids across Kerala to seize explosive materials possessed either illegally or in excess of permitted quantities, he said.

State BJP president Kummanem Rajasekheran said a total ban on firecrackers may not be feasible. “What Kerala needs is proper mechanisms,” he said.

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