Sabarimala braces for possible Maoist threat

Enhanced protection for police and Devaswom officials

The perception of a heightened Maoist threat has urged the State police to turn Sabarimala into a veritable fortress this pilgrimage season.

The possibility of Maoist retaliatory strikes against police officers and law enforcement infrastructure in Sabarimala, including hostage-taking, for the killing of four-armed rebels in a shoot out in Palakkad forests, has put the State’s security establishment on extreme alert as the temple opens this week.

The police plan to deploy hundreds of officers along the forest routes to handle crowd surges, manage traffic, prevent a stampede, regulate check posts, reunite lost persons, curb crime and ensure peace.

Senior officials said there could be no compromise on their safety given the credible threat from left-wing extremists.

The recalibrated security scheme for Sabarimala entails more armed officers, watchtowers, quick reaction teams, wireless repeater stations and an enhanced surveillance camera network linked to artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition software to identify miscreants.

Officials said area domination exercises were on to deny Maoists operational freedom in the forested locality. The police have upped their intelligence collection.

The Supreme Court verdict allowing the construction of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya has also impacted the security situation in Sabarimala.

The Centre has warned States to guard against possible "lone wolf" attacks at religious congregations and places of worship, and the Ayyappa temple was a high-profile target.

The police have also weighed the likely law and order fall out of the Supreme Court’s impending ruling on the petition to review its earlier decision to allow the entry of women of all ages to Sabarimala.

An official said Sabarimala’s security in the changed scenario hinged primarily on the success of the government’s scheme to allow only pilgrims who have registered themselves through its e-portal to enter the temple locality.

The suicide blasts that targeted churches in neighbouring Sri Lanka on Easter Day this April have also added impetus to the State’s push for extreme vetting of visitors to the temple.

A prior audit of individual pilgrims bound for Sabarimala will help the police prevent the entry of persons who want to use the temple to push their political agenda. State Police Chief Loknath Behera has reviewed the arrangements.

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