A DAY after the death of two children at Sukhjit Ashram, a government-run home for mentally retarded children in Kapurthala, there was a flurry of activity. The District Social Welfare Officer (DSSO), who held additional charge of the Ashram’s superintendent, was placed under suspension while attendant Veena Rani was chargesheeted for accepting and distributing the ‘donated food’ to the children.
Also, Kiranpreet Kaur, the superintendent from Amritsar home for mentally challenged, was transferred to Kapurthala Ashram, which did not have any permanent superintendent for the past over two years.
Two teams from Chandigarh — one comprising the director, Punjab Social Welfare Department, Gurloveleen Singh Sidhu, and the other one having the chairman of Punjab State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Sukesh Kalia, and the commission secretary, Sumer Singh Gujjar — visited the Ashram on Wednesday.
While Sidhu and Kapurthala Deputy Commissioner Jaskiran Singh interacted with the media, the other team met the DC to discuss the matter.
All the 30 children were still
under treatment at the local civil hospital. The DC said they would be taken to the newly built rooms of the ashram building where whitewash was started on Wednesday.
Sources said that donated food was accepted at the Ashram for two days — Saturday and Sunday — in violation of written orders of the Kapurthala DC. However, no entry was made in the register about the persons who had donated the cooked food.
Hospital sources said that the children died due to suspected food poisoning and their windpipes being choked because of vomiting.
The cremation of both the children was held on Wednesday. However, the body of Jyoti, 15, was not accepted by her relatives when the ashram staff contacted them.
Sidhu said that as per law, the cooked food from outside cannot be accepted but the norms were flouted by DSSO Gurbarag Lal. That is why he had been placed under suspension and attendant Veena Rani was chargesheeted because she accepted the food and then distributed it to the children.
He said that a magisterial inquiry was going on and if anyone else was found guilty, they would be brought to book.
Asserting that further action would be taken after the inquiry report, the DC said that only fruits and raw food items like pulses, rice and milk are accepted but not cooked one at the Ashram. Only a registered organisation with prior permission can distribute the food inside, that too after being first checked by the superintendent and the attendants.
Kalia said the home was in a bad shape and he would make recommendations for better administration of the home. The commission has directed the district administration to get the home cleaned, the entire building painted and also directed the authorities to put up a noticeboard mentioning in bold letters that ‘outside food is not allowed inside the Ashram’.
Currently, there are six staff members at the Ashram — a teacher, two attendants, a cook, one sweeper and one chowkidar. DC Jaskiran Singh said they needed at least 11 staff members — a permanent superintendent, two cooks, two full-time attendants, three chowkidars and three sweepers. He said he had written to the social welfare department over six months ago in this regard but no action was taken.
Sweeper Asha Rani said the Ashram has just one cook, Kulbir Kaur, and if she goes on leave, then attendant Veena Rani used to cook food for children.
A visit to the Ashram revealed a sorry state of affairs. There is wild vegetation inside the boundary wall of the home. Even the parks meant for these children are surrounded by high grass all around, and the rooms where they put up are in pathetic condition and stinking badly. In one room, meant for two, around six-seven children are adjusted under a fan in this scorching heat.