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Indian police detain five over Kerala temple fire

40Indian police have detained five people after a fireworks display at a Hindu temple set off explosions

and fire killing 108 people, an officer said on Monday, in one of the worst accidents at a religious


Thousands of people were gathered at the temple at Kollam in the southern state of Kerala on

Sunday for the pyrotechnic show to mark the start of the Hindu year when sparks ignited a cache of

fireworks stored inside the temple grounds.

The district administration said it had not given permission for the fireworks display following

complaints of noise and pollution.

Police officer Anantha Krishnan said the five taken into custody were employees of a fireworks

manufacturer who was given the contract for running the show at the Puttingal Devi temple.

The head of the manufacturing unit was injured, one of 380 people who were in hospitals across the

state with burns as well as injuries caused by flying concrete and debris.

But police had not been able to reach members of the temple management, Krishnan said.

Kerala is studded with temples managed by rich and powerful trusts that often flout local

regulations. Each year temples hold fireworks displays, often competing to stage the most

spectacular ones, with judges who decide the winners.

On Monday, grieving relatives of the victims were scouring the temple grounds for possessions of

their loved ones among the shoes, handbags and other articles strewn in a pile of debris and a

puddle, dark red with blood. “There were so many men and women lying on the ground, lifeless,”

said Anish Kumar, a resident.

The scale of the tragedy has ignited demands that fireworks shows be banned at crowded places in

Kerala. The chief of the state unit of the Indian Medical Association, AV Jayakrishna, said he planned

to file a petition before the Kerala High Court on Monday curbing the use of fireworks.

Such has been the outrage across the nation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Kollam

within a few hours with a team of doctors.

Opposition politicians led by Rahul Gandhi also visited the temple site, demanding a thorough

investigation into the cause of the fire which took place amid a state election to choose a new


Modi has faced public criticism for failing to respond quickly to disasters such as the floods in

Chennai late last year. Large parts of the city were under water for days before government help


But Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party said he was focused on the task in hand.

“Ever since the Gujarat earthquake, in any disaster, the prime minister wants to be hands on,” said

BJP spokesman MJ Akbar, referring to Modi’s work in his home state when the 2001 quake hit.

“Where he keeps aloof – and rightly so – is in all these artificial, emotional, sound-bite controversies.

He is consistent in his interventions and in his silences.”