Kerala Wednesday sought the cooperation of the southern states to implement the Supreme Court verdict on women's entry into the Sabarimala shrine, even as ministers from these states kept away from a meeting to discuss the arrangements for the annual pilgrimage season starting next month.
According to the official schedule, the meeting was supposed to be inaugurated by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
However, as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Puducherry sent their senior officials, instead of devaswom ministers, to attend the meeting, Vijayan kept off.
Addressing the meeting, Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said the state government had the constitutional obligation to implement the apex court verdict and sought the cooperation of all the southern states.
The state had suffered massive devastation in the floods in August and Sabarimala, especially Pamba, had been badly affected, he said, adding that the "Nadappanthal" (resting place) at Pamba, the health centre and the toilet facilities had all been very badly damaged.
The restoration works at Pamba and the construction of additional facilities for pilgrims at the Nilakkal base camp had been entrusted with the Tata Project Limited at an estimated cost of Rs 25 crore, the minister said.
Almost all the works, including the facilities for accommodating 10,000 pilgrims, parking of 20,000 vehicles, besides those related to drinking water and the toilet blocks at Pamba and Nilakkal were nearing completion and were expected to be ready by November 11, he added.
The repair works of the roads damaged in the deluge were also nearing completion, Surendran told the meeting.
He thanked all the states that had contributed to the Chief Minister's Disaster Relief Fund.
Elaborating on the arrangements for the three-month pilgrimage season beginning November 17, Surendran said the Ayyappa devotees would be regulated from Nilakkal and the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) would provide chain services from Nilakkal to Pamba and back.
Private vehicles would not be allowed beyond Nilakkal, which would be the base camp for the Sabarimala pilgrimage, as the floods had devastated the facilities at Pamba, he said.
The booking of KSRTC buses could be done online in advance as well as offline, Surendran added.
Plastic in any form was banned even inside the "Irumudikettu" (the offerings for Lord Ayyappa carried by the devotees), he said.
Wide publicity had to be given in vernacular languages by the print and electronic media across the south Indian states to build awareness among the "Guru Swamis" as well as the Ayyappa devotees, asking them to desist from carrying any plastic item even in the "Irumudikettu", the minister said.
He added that there was a widespread campaign in Kerala and other states against donating cash at Sabarimala and other temples of the Devaswom Board.
The state government was not taking a single penny from the revenue of these temples, Surendran said, adding that instead, it was granting huge funds for their administration every year.
Kerala had witnessed widespread protests by devotees after the state government made it clear that it was bound to implement the top court's verdict on the entry of women of all ages into the hill shrine.
Opposition Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have extended support to the agitation of the devotees, who want to preserve the centuries-old traditions of the temple.
(With inputs from agencies.)