Delhi High Court: Mahatma Gandhi's memorial akin to place of worship
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar pulled up the Rajghat Samadhi Committee (RSC), set up for its maintenance, preservation and administration, over its failure to perform its statutory functions
Can a place of worship be kept in an "unhygienic" and "deplorable" manner, an anguished Delhi High Court said today, observing that Mahatma Gandhi's memorial at Rajghat in the national capital was akin to such a place. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar pulled up the Rajghat Samadhi Committee (RSC), set up for its maintenance, preservation and administration, over its failure to perform its statutory functions, saying "we find the Rajghat Samadhi is thus akin to a place of worship."
"We have ... wondered as to whether places of worship can be treated in such an unhealthy and an unhygienic condition," the bench said while referring to a 2012 verdict of the high court. Referring to a judgement passed in another case in 2012, the bench noted that the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) had listed RSC as one of the statutory bodies which organised special functions on October 2 and January 30 to observe the birth and death anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi.
"Besides these annual functions, all-religion prayer and spinning programmes are held regularly throughout the year. The Samadhi attracts a large number of tourists and other visitors including school children... "The visitors are attracted to the Samadhi out of reverence for Mahatma Gandhi, to pay respect to him and to imbibe Gandhian ideals from the Gandhian atmosphere created and maintained at the Samadhi."
It directed the committee to ensure maintenance of the memorial in order to show reverence to the Father of the Nation. The bench got annoyed after going through the report handed to it by the local commissioner, advocate Satyakam, who was tasked by the court to inspect the site and file a report and observed that it speaks of a deplorable state of affairs of Rajghat and even the water bodies are full of dirt.
"The sapling planted by the VVIPs and dignitaries including head of states and national and international leaders are also not maintained. There are filthy toilets and unhygienic canteen and no taps for water. Even the Samadhi is not maintained," it said, adding that there is no proper facility for disabled people who visit the memorial. The bench also commented that despite the drawbacks, the committee had argued vociferously that everything was in place and they were maintaining the area regularly.
It ordered that the RSC should immediately stop any "knee jerk repairs" from being undertaken in view of this court's reaction. The bench noted that since Agha Khan Foundation was into restoration of several historical site of national importance, it should also look into the Rajghat Samadhi. It sought the presence of the Foundation and one Nipun Malhotra, on whose petition the court had earlier ordered a disability audit of government buildings in the national capital on the next hearing on February 19.
The court was hearing a hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) which alleged that Mahatma Gandhi's memorial was not being properly maintained. The court had earlier expressed displeasure over keeping a donation box at Rajghat, saying this was a "disrespectful" gesture to the Father of the Nation. Petitioner Shyam Narayan Chouksey had claimed that the memorial "was not at all being properly and cleanly maintained", and despite being brought to the notice of the committee and MoUD, there has been no change in the situation. In the PIL, Chouksey has submitted photos of alleged deficiencies that he had come across during his visit to the monument in 2014 and then again in 2015 and 2016, when he claimed the situation had worsened.
He has alleged there were betel stains at the entrance, broken floor tiles, rubbish lying all around the monument, the white marble has turned black due to lack of cleaning while the green carpet laid for visitors to walk was damaged. Two toilets were in very poor condition and unclean, and at many places sewage lines are exposed and filled with garbage, becoming "breeding place for mosquitoes and other insects".
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