Indian police said they have arrested five people after a fireworks display at a temple sparked a fire that killed at least 108 people in one of the worst accidents ever seen at a religious festival.
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 on the grounds.
A police officer, Anantha Krishnan, said the five taken into custody on Monday were employees of a fireworks manufacturer who ran the show at the Puttingal Devi temple.
The district administration said it had not given permission for the fireworks display following complaints of noise and pollution.
The head of the manufacturing company 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.
Police had not been able to reach members of the temple management, Krishnan said.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Delhi, said daily celebrations were being held in the country to mark the Hindu festival.
“Some of the celebrations take place without the authorities’ permission and without taking into consideration safety measures, which is what happened [on Sunday],” she 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.
|People walk past debris after a fire broke out at a temple in Kollam in the southern state of Kerala [Sivaram V/Reuters]|
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.
The scale of the tragedy has prompted 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 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 assembly.
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 arrived.
But Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party said he was focused on the task in hand.
Fires and stampedes are not uncommon at temples and during religious occasions, often because of poor security arrangements and lax safety standards.
Earlier this month, a flyover being built in the eastern city of Kolkata collapsed killing more than 20 people, raising questions regarding safety measures.