Naresh Pandit, the priest at Ukhlarsi cremation ground in Muradnagar, is awaiting visitors on Thursday, to help them perform the last rites for their departed loved ones.
On any other day, he would serve around two to four bodies and accept any money that people felt like giving him for his services that would be generally around ₹100 to ₹300.
Since the roof of a shelter collapsed on sunday and killed 24 people though, he has had few visitors.
“It is for the first time that I saw bodies being taken away from the cremation ground,” he said, recounting the January 3 incident.
At the time, Pandit was in Delhi and his son was performing the rites inside the shelter. Just moments before the collapse, his son had gone out of the room.
“He escaped with minor injuries. It seems people are afraid now. The day after the incident, seven persons who had died in it were cremated here. Since then, there has been only one other cremation,” said Pandit. “One more family had arrived but then changed their mind and went elsewhere.”
Muradnagar town has several cremation grounds like the ones at Jalapur, Rawli Road and the one at Ordinance Factory and also at Dedha village. The Ukhlarsi cremation ground was commissioned in 1992.
“This is the biggest of all. About 15 days ago, the contractor had removed the wooden poles from below the roof of the shelter. On the day of the incident, his labourers were applying white plaster on the walls when the roof collapsed in the rain. Nowadays, we have visitors who come to visit the incident site and also to know more about the incident,” said Pandit.
The shelter has been sealed for now and samples of the debris were taken to be tested to ascertain the quality of material used.
“Bodies can still be cremated at the cremation ground. More cremation platforms and the shelter will be constructed once the investigation is complete. Hopefully, things will be streamlined with time,” said Aditya Prajapati, sub divisional magistrate (SDM – Modinagar).
Most of the families of the victims stay in Muradnagar and also received cheques for ₹10 lakh each from the government as compensation for their loss on Wednesday.
“Some victim families are from outside districts and they will be given soon,” said the SDM.
Initially, the UP government had offered ₹2 lakh. But on Monday the families placed the bodies over the Delhi Meerut Road and blocked the erstwhile national highway for about seven hours demanding justice. UP cabinet minister Suresh Khanna then announced ₹10 lakh to each family.
On Thursday, leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) met the families and visited the incident site.
“At least ₹50 lakh should be paid to each family. We want transparent investigation and guilty should be punished. We are here to help victims get justice and not to indulge in politics,” said Ashu Malik, SP leader and former MLC.
The UP government on Wednesday also directed that the incident will be probed by special investigation team (SIT) of the Economic Offences Wing.
“A lot of SITs had been formed for different incidents in UP but without results. We want a CBI inquiry and those involved in corruption should be booked for murder. The victim families have not been given any time frame for government jobs,” said AAP leader Sanjay Singh.
“There is no timeframe given for the government job but it will be expedited as a process has to be followed for it,” SDM said.
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