Seven people who were absconding following a deadly fire at a southern Indian temple in the state of Kerala Sunday have surrendered to police, officials said Tuesday. The people, who are board members of the temple, are being investigated for possible charges of attempted murder and culpable homicide, both punishable by life imprisonment, and illegally storing a cache of explosives.
The fire wreaked havoc at the Puttingal temple in Kollam district's Paravoor town — about 40 miles north of state capital Thiruvananthapuram — after an illegal fireworks display went awry during a religious festival. At least 116 people have been killed in the incident and over 200 others are being treated.
Police officer Gupakumar said the seven people were taken into custody late Monday following a two-day hunt, the Associated Press reported. Earlier in the day, police questioned five detained workers about fireworks stored in the temple area to identify the owner of the firecrackers and the contractors of the fireworks display, police constable R. Unnikrishnan Nair told the AP. The five detainees were later released.
Police have also filed a case against the fireworks contractor. According to reports, firecrackers worth nearly $1 million were brought for celebration at the temple, where thousands of people had gathered. Officials had reportedly denied permission for the fireworks display.
According to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, the fire started after a spark from the fireworks ignited another set of firecrackers in the temple area.
Thousands of people present for the celebration at the temple early Sunday ran in panic after the initial blast cut off power in the temple area, while other explosions sent flames triggering the collapse of a building at the temple, a witness reportedly said.
The temple conducts a competitive fireworks show every year, with different groups displaying the works in front of thousands of people who gather for the end of a seven-day festival honoring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali. However, this year, Kollam district officials had denied permission to the temple board for fireworks display, A. Shainamol, the district’s top official, reportedly said.