The historic Bhitiharwa Ashram, set up by Mahatma Gandhi in 1917 to spearhead the Champaran movement in West Champaran of Bihar, is facing the threat of destruction.
Located about 58 km north-east from the district headquarters, the ashram‘s foundation was laid on the bricks carried by Mahatma Gandhi’s wife Kasturba Gandhi. But it was devastated in 2017 by the floods from Pandui river, originating from bordering Nepal.
As the structure remained submerged in water for more than a week, many of its walls have developed cracks and plaster got eroded at many places. Prompted by the local authorities’ insistence, the building construction department (BCD) had prepared an estimate of ₹1.04 lakh for its repair last year.
However, the repair work could not take off as the art and culture department, under whose jurisdiction the Ashram’s maintenance lies, has not yet approved the BCD’s estimate. “The estimate is quite reasonable. It seems the proposal must have been driven by the Mahatma’s ideology of honesty,” quipped an official of the art and culture department.
Principal secretary of art and culture department Ravi Manubhai Parmar said, he did not have any idea about any estimate. “The estimate proposal, which was so low in the amount, might have been discarded at the lower level. I would check it at my own level,” said Parmar.
However, a senior officer of the department said that the proposal was turned down by the department, as it did not come through the proper channel. “Ideally, the proposal for repair was made on the recommendation of the culture department. The executive engineer of the BCD should not have prepared without formal approval from the department,” he said, pleading anonymity.
Build on 12 katha (around 39,000 square feet) land, the ashram had a bronze bell used in the school set up by Mahatma Gandhi in the same campus, a table used by him and a millstone used by Kasturba Gandhi for grinding flour. Besides, over two dozen photographs detailing Gandhi’s journey through the peasants’ uprising in Champaran are also in the ashram’s possession.
Shatrughan Chaurasia, a right to information (RTI) activist and native of Srirampur village, rued that such a historic ashram was facing monumental neglect. “It may crumble down any day, if urgent repair is not carried out,” said Chaurasia, recalling how his father cherished the visit of Mahatma Gandhi at his home.
“There appears no one in the government to look after the conditions of historical monuments and places of heritage. The government is paying only lip service to the Father of the Nation, whose Champaran visit was celebrated by the officers in a grand manner,” said retired teacher Devilal Yadav, a native of Shanichara village, once infamous for indigo farming.
Aug 19, 2019 15:39 IST