The State government on Thursday informed the Madras High Court that as many as 34 lakh devotees had visited the Devarajaswamy temple in Kacheepuram to worship a fig wood idol of Lord Varadaraja Perumal, popularly known as Athi Varadar, taken out of the temple tank Anantasaras after 40 years and kept for public worship for 45 days since July 1.
A Division Bench of Justices S. Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad was told that on average about 1.5 lakh devotees visit the temple every day.
The number had gone up to 2.75 lakh on July 18 and 2.5 lakh on July 13. Yet, not even a single case of death due to stampede had been reported so far due to best possible arrangements, the government claimed.
Additional Advocate General (AAG) P.H. Arvindh Pandian and Additional Government Pleader E. Manoharan said all six deaths reported at the location so far were that of devotees who were suffering from various ailments during their visit to the temple. The devotees had died after the darshan of the idol and not while standing in the queue, they stated.
Stating that free darshan was permitted from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, the law officers told the court that paid darshan was also allowed from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on online payment of ₹300 per ticket. In view of the surge in crowd, the darshan timings had now been extended up to 11 p.m..
Ten ambulances, 10 bike ambulances and four centres for prevention of communicable diseases were also under operation. Two IGs, two DIGs, 14 SPs, 18 Additional SPs, 57 DSPs and 177 Inspectors had been deployed for security.
In total, 5,500 police personnel were at the spot to regulate the crowd. Further, seven fire tenders and 250 firemen were also available round the clock.
When advocate Suhrith Parthasarathy, representing one of the five public interest litigation petitioners who had complained about poor arrangements, insisted on allowing the devotees, especially local residents, to worship the main deity Devarajaswamy too, the AAG said a decision on that would be taken by the officials in a couple of days.
Advocate T. Mohan, representing another litigant, insisted on deploying central paramilitary forces to control the crowd, but the judges wondered whether such an order could be passed.
After an extensive hearing, they decided to pronounce detailed orders on Monday.