Antony offers military help for Sabarimala pilgrimage

November 8th, 2008 - 7:05 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 8 (IANS) Defence Minister A.K. Antony has offered the military’s help to the Kerala government, including providing helicopters, during the over two-month-long Sabarimala pilgrimage that begins Nov 16. The festival at the holy hill shrine, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, continues till the third week of January.

Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan had requested the military’s help for the pilgrimage that sees hundreds of thousands visiting the shrine. In his reply to the Kerala chief minister’s letter, Antony said the military was willing to provide all help to meet emergency situations.

The defence minister has ordered the Kochi naval headquarter and Coimbatore’s Sulor naval base to arrange one helicopter each at the two bases during the pilgrimage season, an official in Antony’s office told IANS.

Antony, a former chief minister of Kerala, said he has also directed the force to be ready to meet any emergency situation during the pilgrimage. He has requested the state government to contact the zonal military commanders in emergency situations.

Meanwhile, authorities at the Sabarimala temple have made arrangements for helicopter landing at Nilackal near Pamba, a base camp for the pilgrims.

An Indian Air Force helicopter, which flew in from Coimbatore, conducted a successful test landing at Nilackal Friday.

The temple authorities Friday said the helicopter facility, arranged for the first time, would be used in case of emergency only and not to bring in pilgrims.

The temple is situated at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level and located four km from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district. Large numbers of pilgrims turn up at the shrine every year on ‘Makar jyoti’ day on Jan 14.

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