NILACKAL, Kerala — Opposition Congress-led UDF workers staged a protest here Tuesday demanding withdrawal of prohibitory orders in force in and around Sabarimala as police briefly stopped them from accompanying a delegation of their leaders to the Lord Ayyappa shrine to inspect facilities for devotees.
Police initially said they cannot be allowed to visit the Lord Ayyappa temple in such large numbers in view of the prohibitory orders, but later permitted them.
The hill shrine has been witnessing intense protests by devotees against the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all age groups to offer prayers.
The government has clamped prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPc banning assembly of four or more people in Sabarimala and surrounding areas in view of the protests.
The UDF delegation was heading to the hill shrine to take stock of the facilities amid reports that proper arrangements had not been made for the pilgrims, who will throng the temple during the ongoing two-month annual season.
The nine-member delegation demanded that all the party workers accompanying them should be allowed to visit the temple while police said only senior leaders would be permitted in view of the prohibitory orders in place.
The leaders including, Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala, former chief minister Oommen Chandy, IUML leader M K Muneer and N K Premachandran MP, squatted on the road and demanded withdrawal of the ban order.
UDF activists raised "go back" slogans against police and chanted 'swamiye saranam ayyappa' mantras.
Police later allowed everyone to go to the shrine.
Superintendent of police, Yatish Chandra made it clear that there was no restriction for ordinary devotees to go to the hill shrine in the state-run KSRTC buses.
Urging the CPI(M)-led LDF government to withdraw the prohibitory orders in Sabariamla, Chennithala alleged they were trying to sabotage the Sabarimala pilgrimage.
"The invoking of prohibitory orders in Sabarimala amounted to violation of human rights. It should be withdrawn at the earliest. Every devotee has the right to go to Sabarimala and offer prayers," he said.
Chandy slammed the Left front government for imposing restrictions at the shrine complex and claimed it had made the pilgrimage impossible for devotees.
The UDF leaders and party workers later proceeded to Pamba in a KSRTC bus en route to Sabarimala.
Meanwhile, BJP MPs, V Muraleedharan and Nalin Kumar Kateel, along with a group of other party leaders, visited the base camp here and Pamba and reviewed the infrastructure facilities.
They also interacted with devotees and enquired about the facilities offered at the shrine complex.
Muraleedharan told reporters at Pamba that not only devotees but police personnel and KSRTC employees were suffering due to the dearth of basic facilities.
The BJP leaders' visit came a day after Union Minister Alphons Kannanthanam visited the temple complex and hit out at the LDF government for turning it into a "war zone".
He has also alleged that the LDF government was treating the pilgrims like "dacoits".
State Human Rights Commission chairperson Antony Dominic also Tuesday visited the base camps at Nilackal and Pamba in the wake of complaints about the lack of infrastructure facilities including toilets and drinking water shortage.
Restrictions have been imposed at the Lord Ayyappa temple following the protest by devotees and activists of the BJP and RSS over the state government's decision to implement the September 28 Supreme Court order allowing the entry of women in menstrual age into the shrine.
The Kerala High Court Monday came down heavily on the police for the manner in which the Ayyappa devotees were dealt with at the "Sannidhanam" (main temple compelx) on Sunday when several were arrested and sought a report on the restrictions put in place.
The hill shrine was opened on November 16 evening for the over two-month-long pilgrim seasons amidst tension.