Unsustainable environment, unmanageable pilgrimage: A preliminary report on Sabarimala

Despite a committed and efficient district administration, Sabarimala pilgrimage can become unmanageable and unsustainable in the coming years. The number of pilgrims to the annual religious congregation is increasing and given the geo-spatial and ecological context of Sabarimala which is part of the Western Ghats, any development in terms of infrastructure could be detrimental. A preliminary study which is part of a larger project undertaken by Santhigiri Social Research Institute shows multi-dimensional impacts of the pilgrimage. The health service system is strained and in the event of any emergency, mortality cannot be avoided. The State government has provided emergency services at various routes to the temple but these are managed by persons who are under-trained. Pain management and respiratory support are also available. It is found that most of the complaints are related to muscular pains and breathlessness. The State should consider deploying para medics who are trained in indigenous system in these booths.  Sitting spaces could be provided en route especially for the older pilgrims. Oxygen cylinders and pain relieving lotion are available but these are available on the main roads leading to the temple. The most serious problem is suffocation and breathing problems which are severe during the waiting period in the queue system. The state government should consider deploying a few para medics along with the police managing the queue. Air and sound pollution is maximum in the temple premises which should be monitored and controlled by scientific methods.
The state of origin of the pilgrims plays a major role in the behaviour of the gathering in Sabarimala. They bring in their own cultural practices while visiting the temple which negatively impact the eco-system. New ways of offerings, new practices in worshipping and even sleeping patterns including sanitary habits pose a problem for the administration and for the fragile ecosystem. The entire route from Pamba to the sannidhanam has become a urinal with pilgrims urinating wherever there is a space. The authorities have tried to provide urinals at places nearer to the temple but with the huge number of pilgrims, this has become ineffective. Major problem is sanitation with the entire route strewn with wastes generated by the pilgrims. The existing cleaning process with brooms used in households is ineffective and unscientific. Pilgrims from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka dominate the number of pilgrims and therefore coordination committees with multi-state representation can play a major role in culturally tuning the pilgrimage.

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