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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment at an election rally in Fatehpur on Sunday — that shamshaans should be built just as kabristaans are, without bhedbhaav — is not the first time that the BJP has raised the issue of cremation grounds in Uttar Pradesh. In its manifesto for the 2012 Assembly elections, the Samajwadi Party had promised a special package to build boundary walls around kabristaans (burial grounds) to guard against encroachments. After the party came to power, the government decided to give effect to the proposal in its first cabinet meeting on March 15, 2012. District Magistrates would receive proposals from Chief Executive Officers of the Shia and Sunni Central Wakf Boards, and would sanction the cost of the boundary wall, it was decided, even as the BJP protested.
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As allegations of “Muslim appeasement” persisted, the cabinet, on September 4, 2012, named the scheme “Alpsankhyak Samudaayaon ke Kabristaanon/Anteyshti Sthal ki Bhoomi ki Suraksha Yojana”, and extended it to cover boundary walls and cremation grounds of other minority communities such as Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis. DMs were asked to identify graveyards and cremation grounds of minority communities for the construction of 1.35-metre-high boundary walls.
The scheme is being run by the state government’s Muslim Wakf Department. In its budget for 2012-13, the state government made a provision of Rs 200 crore for the scheme, and boundary walls were proposed to be constructed around 1,130 minority graveyards and cremation grounds. The government spent 100% of the budgetary allocation for the scheme during the year.
The biggest demand for funds came from the DMs of Muslim dominated districts such as Moradabad (Rs 11.55 crore), Muzaffarnagar (Rs 8.66 cr), Bijnor (Rs 8.48 cr), Bareilly (Rs 7.91 cr), Saharanpur (Rs 7.29 cr), Meerut (Rs 6.41 cr), Rampur (Rs 6.33 cr), Bahraich (Rs 5.24 cr), and Ghaziabad (Rs 5.15 cr).
Subsequently, in August 2013, the office of the Survey Commissioner, Wakf, told The Indian Express in response to a question asked under the Right to Information (RTI) Act that it had identified 85,315 graveyards and 339 cremation grounds of minority communities across the state for the construction of boundary walls.
“As the population of Muslims is more than other minority communities, the number of their graveyards is also more. Their graveyards have been selected for the scheme in the same proportion,” an official of the Minority Welfare Department said. “Minority communities other than Muslims hardly send proposals for development of boundary walls under the scheme,” the official added.
In 2013-14, the government made a provision of Rs 300 crore for this scheme, and 98.13% of the allocation was ulitised. Until that time, there was no scheme for the development of cremation grounds (shamshaan ghats). The state unit of the BJP had been repeatedly raising the issue, accusing the government of discrimination.
In September 2014, the government introduced a scheme to develop shamshaan ghats in rural areas. At each identified location, the Panchayati Raj Department had to develop two covered platforms for cremations, a Shanti Sthal, facilities for drinking water and toilets, storeroom for wood, hand pumps, and arrangement for the disposal of waste water.
The 2014-15 budget set aside Rs 200 crore for the graveyards and cremation grounds scheme for minorities, and Rs 100 crore for the development of cremation grounds in rural areas. These numbers in the 2015-16 budget were Rs 200 crore and Rs 99.92 crore.
For the 2016-17 fiscal, the government has made a provision of Rs 400 crore for the minorities’ scheme, and Rs 127 crore for shamshaan ghats in rural areas.