Barrels of “chemical waste” outside and a slew of safety violations inside — the death of two devotees at jailed self-styled godman Rampal’s ashram in Mundka industrial area has brought the place under scanner of authorities. On Monday, two devotees had died while cleaning a sewer at the ashram — a far cry from the sprawling one in Haryana, from where Rampal was arrested in November, 2014. The ashram’s manager, Chand Rathi, was arrested by police Tuesday.
Surrounding the Mundka ashram are half a dozen godowns, and several empty barrels filled with what authorities said was chemical waste. On Tuesday, devotees manned the entrance, letting only other followers and visitors inside. However, they had an unexpected visitor in Punjabi Bagh sub-divisional magistrate Santosh Kumar Rai, who came with a police team.
After taking photographs of the site, ashram authorities were asked to open the manhole where the two men died. While devotees had told police that the sewer was not filled with water, once the manhole was opened, authorities found it filled to the brim with grimy water. After inspecting the site, Rai told The Indian Express that “safety norms” were “not followed” in the ashram as the men cleaning the sewer had not been given “safety equipment”. He also claimed that the ashram authorities had not been able to produce “proper permits”.
“In Delhi, you need permits to construct such ashrams. They presented no permissions from competent authorities such as the MCD. Also, the ashram has encroached upon a stretch of land near a railway line. They have erected a tent, which we have asked them to remove. I will also look into the other illegal encroachments in the area,” Rai said.
Rai also said the ashram had “constructed a borewell inside without necessary permits from the fire department”. “The ashram was extracting groundwater. In Delhi, you cannot extract groundwater for agricultural, commercial and residential purposes,” Rai said.
Devotees, meanwhile, said “more than 200 people from India and Nepal visit the ashram” on a daily basis. Just a few metres from the sewer, outside the ashram’s gate, around seven devotees made food for visitors at the canteen. Ashram authorities said they had more than 15 cylinders at the canteen, but no fire extinguishers could be seen.
Outside, the air was thick with fumes emanating from the chemicals. “The ashram used to dump its waste right outside and we used to protest. But then they constructed their own sewer a year ago. In these parts, only a smoker can stomach the air; others start feeling dizzy,” claimed Ashok Sharma, a local. The SDM said he will conduct a survey of polluting units near the ashram and take action, if necessary.