From fleecing vendors to lodging issues and lack of drinking water, problems are plenty at Aththi Varadhar festival, but authorities maintain that all is well.
According to devotees and local public who allege poor arrangements, those who come to worship are made to crowd in a small space before entering the temple. “With no proper queue, devotees are made to stand in bunch and thus have to rush once the way is cleared. This may even lead to a stampede,” said S Srinivasan, a priest at the temple.
He said the administration failed to consult the main priests in the temple before making the arrangements. “We know the temple very well for so many years and also how to arrange queue system around the temple so that people do not rush,” Srinivasan rued.
Devotees who come from far flung areas complain about the lack of proper arrangements for drinking water and toilets, especially for women.
One of them, K Umanath, a grocery shop owner from Jagtial district in Telangana who came with his wife and children, said when they reached Kancheepuram on Thursday evening, they could not find any lodge to stay or hotel to have their dinner. Finally, they were forced to sleep in an open space about a km away from the temple, and attend to nature’s call near a sewage pipe.
K Mariappan, a senior citizen from Salem, had to travel nearly five km to Walajahbad for food and lodging. Though there were volunteers distributing free drinking water, there were vendors who sold it for a very high price, he complained.
The major health concerns that devotees have been facing are dehydration, vomiting and suffocation due to standing in queue for hours together. “Though security officials say free drinking water is available, none offered us when we were standing in long queue in the sweltering heat,” said S Rajalakshmi from Tiruvallur. “If you are stuck in the middle of the queue, it is very difficult to move and is also suffocating,” she added.
Though there are four ambulances stationed there, the narrow street filled with people make it difficult for the drivers to maneuver. Also, added a nurse at a special health camp, “Too many barricades on the streets pose a big hurdle for the ambulance. But we have no choice. Even carrying stretchers was a difficult task, she said.
Parking is another problem for the devotees. “We were forced to stop our vehicle at least two km from the temple. It is difficult for the elderly to walk all the way,” P Narisiman from Chennai said.
When asked, the police said the safety and security arrangements have been enhanced after the devotees died due to suffocation. “Now we are sending people in batches,” said a senior officer, assuring that there need not be any fears of stampede. He added that personnel were also kept on standby expecting an increase in crowd in August first week.