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Delhi govt promises action on Bachcha Ghat
Prem Panicker | May 17, 2007 16:04 IST
Prompted by the furore over Bachcha Ghat and the Public Interest Litigation it triggered, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has promised action intended to ensure that little children can be buried/cremated with due honor and dignity.
In a May 14 letter to Delhi-based businessman Shantanu Sharma, who filed the PIL, Dikshit says "In order to properly address this issue, I had taken a meeting with the officials of the MCD and the DDA. I was informed by MCD that there is already a burial ground in Seemapuri for cremation of small children. Further, MCD intends to develop special burial/cremation grounds for children below three years at Sarai Kale Khan and Bela Road shortly.
"I am informed that MCD runs 62 cremation grounds in Delhi and they propose to earmark specific areas for burial/cremation of children in these cremation grounds with special signages/boards. DDA also assured to allot land to MCD for construction of one or two more burial grounds for children, for which MCD has been asked to identify sites at the earliest."
Yes, but when, asks Shantanu Sharma, pointing out that the chief minister's promises with regard to the 62 cremation grounds are merely in compliance with the order of the Delhi high court in response to his petition.
"The problem is, no deadline has been mentioned by the chief minister," Sharma says. "And you know how governments function -- 'at the earliest' could mean sometime in this lifetime."
Sharma, who received the letter Wednesday May 16, drove this morning to the Seemapuri cremation ground mentioned by Ms Dikshit. "There is no facility there," Sharma asserts. "The whole area has been taken up by jhopadpattis."
In any case, says Sharma, this is not merely a question of Delhi -- such facilities are lacking throughout the country. He has, he says, received over 3000 emails from concerned parents, and from those who have had similar tragedies in their lives.
"All of them talk of the trauma they suffered; they all talk of the grief that still remains with them -- it is bad enough to have a child die, after all the hope and expectation and joy with which you welcome it into this world; to then be forced to 'bury' that child in what is little more than a garbage dump leaves a wound even time cannot heal."
Sharma believes the issue calls for a movement to create, and maintain, such facilities across the country. "The funds are certainly not lacking," he says, detailing mails and calls from citizens, and even industrial houses, promising support and funding. "What we need is a reputed organisation to front the exercise.
"There was this woman who lost her child 25 years ago; she too had only Bachcha Ghat as the sole burial option for her child, and she has never forgotten the agony of that day. She wrote me a mail, detailing her grief and her anger; she said she wished there was some space where she could bury her child, plant a little sapling over the grave, which she could visit over time to salve her grief.
"Watching that sapling grow into a tree, she said to me in her mail, would in some measure alleviate the loss of a son she would never see growing up.
"It is a little thing to ask, really -- a small plot of land, an acre or so, in each city for this purpose. Surely that is not beyond the ability of our government to provide?"
To try and get each state government to act would take forever, Sharma believes; what is needed is a law, which makes it mandatory for the establishment and maintenance of such burial grounds across the country.
Meanwhile, he says, the ironic part of the chief minister's missive is that she promises to shut down Bachcha Ghat shortly.
"In fact," reads Ms Dikshit's letter, "the Bachche Wala Ghat mentioned by you in the letter is an unauthorizedly run ghat. MCD officials have been advised to initiate action as per law."
So now, asks Sharma, where are parents supposed to go? "Bachcha Ghat will be shut, alternatives are being 'considered' or 'planned at the earliest' -- in the meantime, what relief is there for parents unfortunate enough to lose their children?"
Sharma has, at his own expense, posted a guard over the grave of his nephew Raghav Chubey, at Bachcha Ghat. "While I was there, I was horrified to see dogs dig up the remains of a child, and devour it in front of our eyes. I couldn't bear the thought of something like that happening to my sister's child, so we've posted a guard there.
"Even so, conditions there are so bad, the sort of people who frequent the place so unbearable, that the guard tells me he doesn't want to be there, especially at night."
To discuss these and related issues, Sharma after receiving her letter has sought a meeting with the chief minister. "I told her I needed at least 45 minutes of her time, she has promised to make time for me in the next couple of days.
"Hopefully, something concrete will come of it."
Images of Bachcha Ghat
Full text of PIL filed by Shantanu Sharma
Full text of Delhi high court order on the PIL