‘People will correct Kerala govt’: Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan on Sabarimala row

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.Pon Radhakrishnan, the Union minister of state for shipping and finance, questioned senior police officer over the ban on private vehicles heading to Pambha, the last entry point to the temple. Police in Kerala were unnecessarily harassing devotees going to the Sabarimala temple by imposing several restrictions, Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan said on Wednesday as he trekked to the hilltop shrine to Lord Ayyappa in the state’s Pathanamthitta district. Radhakrishnan, the Union minister of state for shipping and finance, questioned senior police officer over the ban on private vehicles heading to Pambha, the last entry point to the temple. “You (police) are unnecessarily harassing devotees. Why only KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Corporation) vehicles are being allowed till Pambha? This is not good for Sabarimala pilgrims. Private vehicles should also be allowed,” the minister asked superintendent of police Yatish Chandra. “I came as a devotee. I am a regular here and I am really upset about the restrictions. Why are you putting undue pressure on devotees?” the angry minister asked after reviewing the facilities put in place by the state government. Chandra said that parking lots in Pambha had been washed away in the floods that hit the state in August. He said the KSRTC buses would not park at Pambha and would be returning with the pilgrims. The official said if private vehicles were allowed, they would create traffic blocks causing difficulties to the devotees. The senior police officer explained the features of Pamba, an environmentally fragile area, to the minister. Chandra also said if Radhakrishnan gives his written permission allowing private vehicles to Pambha, he was prepared to do so. The minister, who was accompanied by state leaders and activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party, also interacted with devotees, especially those who arrived from neighbouring states. Chandra said Radhakrishnan could travel in his official vehicle but the minister refused as a mark of protest and left with his supporters in a state-run bus to Pambha carrying the customary irumudikkettu or the sacred offerings to Lord Ayyappa. “The government should correct itself, otherwise the people will correct them,” he said while speaking to reporters in Pambha. BJP leader AN Radhakrishnan said his party will approach the Union home ministry seeking action against Chandra, who allegedly misbehaved with the minister. “He was rude to the Union minister. It seems he has taken a few lessons from the chief minister who is an expert in insulting tall leaders,” he said. Radhakrishnan is the second Union minister to visit the temple after the minister of state (MoS) for tourism KJ Alphons went there on Monday. Alphons had accused the Left government in Kerala of turning the Sabarimala temple complex into a “war zone” and not providing facilities to the devotees at the hilltop shrine, after more than 70 protesters were arrested late on Sunday. Radhakrishnan arrived at Nilakkal, about 20 km from Sabarimala, a day after opposition Congress-led UDF MLAs and the BJP’s members of Parliament also visited the temple to take stock of facilities offered to devotees. Senior leaders and activists of the Opposition Congress-led UDF, who staged protests at Pamba and Nilakkal on Tuesday, were booked for defying the prohibitory orders on Tuesday. BJP’s V Muraleedharan and Nalin Kumar Kateel, along with a group of other party leaders, also visited Nilakkal and Pamba and reviewed infrastructure facilities. They had also interacted with devotees and enquired about the facilities offered at the shrine complex. The temple in Sabarimala opened on Friday for a 64-day pilgrimage, the third time since the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50. There was a string of protests in Kerala in October when the temple opened for the first time after the Supreme Court’s September 28 order. Traditionalists, who believe the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is celibate, had opposed the court verdict and last month stopped dozen-odd women who tried to enter the temple. (With agency inputs)

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