Police should not give special protection and escort to individuals including women visiting Sabarimala as it causes hardship to other pilgrims, opined the team of observers appointed by the High Court of Kerala. The observers suggested that protection should be limited only to special dignitaries, who are entitled to protection as per protocol, and to individuals who have obtained orders of the Court, for the time being till the end of present festival season.
In a report filed in the Court, they said "We are of the opinion that granting of special police protection to individuals would adversely affect the rights of other pilgrims, who are also entitled to have Darshan at the Sannidhanam without any hardship that may occur because of the commotion that may arise in the course of escorting such women pilgrims. The possible disturbances en route Sannidhanam would seriously affect the safety of other pilgrims besides increasing their anxiety".
The observations are in the context of incidents happened in the last week of December, when women in the child-bearing age group made attempts to enter the temple as per the right declared by the Supreme Court in the Indian Young Lawyers Association case. The observers reported that the women could not make it to the temple due to obstructions created by huge crowd assembled at the trek path.
On December 23, a group of women from the organization "Manithi" from Tamil Nadu had reached Pampa. The report stated that the women could not proceed to Sannidhanam as "there was a huge crowd blocking their further movement at Pampa on the trekking path". The report also noted another incident which happened on December 24, when two women attempted to trek to the hill top shrine with police protection and escort. But they had to return "as the situation was not conducive for a smooth journey to Sannidhanam".
According to the observers, these incidents contributed to long queues of ordinary pilgrims and spread anxiety amongst them. Vehicles were lined up to about 20 kilometers. "While police are engaged in rendering special protection to the individuals their attention to the ordinary devotees and ensuring their safe movement for darshan up to Sannidhanam and smooth darshan is likely to be jeopardized", stated the report. The trek route is through dense forest, flanked on both sides by deep ravines, and there is risk of pilgrims falling down in the absence of proper police attention, the report pointed out.
It further states "jeopardizing the safety of ordinary pilgrims, making them wait unnecessarily for hours together as a result of escorting individual women and causing anxiety and panic among women and children would amount to serious violation of human rights".
Therefore they opined that it was not prudent to provide special police protection to one or two individuals, especially at this stage when the per day flow of pilgrims is more than a lakh. The Committee suggested limiting special police protection to dignitaries entitled to protection as per protocol and individuals who have obtained orders of the Court.
The report also made mention of criticism from "certain quarters" regarding the non-interference made by the Committee when the crowd blocked the entry of women in December. Regarding this it was stated that maintenance of law and order was not the mandate of observers as it was the exclusive domain of the police. They also stated that their advice was not sought by anyone regarding the course of action to be taken in those incidents.
The Reports also narrated the steps taken by the observers to increase parking space at Nilakkal and to ease traffic congestion.The observers criticized the police for permitting the vehicle of 'Manithi' to proceed till Pampa, as private vehicles are not generally permitted to go beyond Nilakkal.
It was on November 27 that the High Court appointed retired HC judges P R Raman and Siri Jagan, and Hemachandran IPS, DGP as observers. They were given "power of overall supervision and to take spot decision to give effect to directions issued by the Court and to ensure smooth and safe pilgrimage".
(Image sourced from here)