KOLLAM: It will be remembered as one of the worst fire tragedies to rock the state. What was meant to be a thrilling pyrotechnic display at the Meena Bharani festival of the century-old Puttingal Devi Temple in Paravoor, Kollam, on April 10, 2016 turned into a horrifying disaster claiming 110 lives and leaving 720 injured.
They say time heals all wounds. But for victims and family members of those who lost their lives in the tragedy, the wounds are still fresh even after a year. While the Crime Branch (CB) is said to have completed the investigation, it is yet to submit the chargesheet before the Paravoor First Class Judicial Magistrate Court. Victims allege they have been denied justice as the case is yet to come to trial. As for the Judicial Commission headed by former High Court Judge Justice P S Gopinathan, it will hold its first sitting at Puttingal this week.
Crime Branch officers say the delay in submitting the chargesheet is purely technical. They aver it was put on hold after the High Court asked the State Police Chief to inquire further into the ‘external influence angle’ in the tragedy. Subsequently, IG (Crime Branch) S Sreejith carried out an investigation and the findings will be submitted soon.
“Once the IG submits the same with the High Court we will file the chargesheet at the Paravoor First Class Judicial Magistrate Court,” a Crime Branch officer told Express. “Before that, we will seek the Kollam District Collector’s sanction to prosecute the 52 accused under the Explosive Substances Act.”
Putting an end to uncertainties, Gopinathan said the commission would start functioning this week. This is the second one to be appointed by the government. Justice Krishnan Nair appointed by the previous UDF government said he was stepping down citing ‘personal reasons’, last November. There were reports he was miffed with issues like lack of funds, appointment of staff and unavailability of infrastructure.
“The commission is ready to commence operation,” Gopinathan told Express. “An office will be set up at Marine Drive in Ernakulam soon. We have fixed the terms of reference and the appointment of a secretary has also been completed. A request for an advocate has been submitted. The commission will hold a spot visit as well as a camp sitting at Puttingal this week.”
The trial session is expected to be back-breaking given the 10,000-page chargesheet, 1,658 eyewitness accounts, 1,600 pieces of documentary evidence; 480 pieces of material evidence, 110 postmortem certificates, 110 inquest certificates and 720 wound certificates. Considering the speciality of the case, the government had earlier appointed Parippally R Raveendran as Special Public Prosecutor. A proposal for sanctioning a Special Court for the trial proceedings is now pending before the HC.