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Fight over playground on burial ground

Calcutta, Feb. 28: A faceless village in Burdwan is posing a grave problem to two government departments, both of which are headed by CPM ministers.

Minorities’ development and welfare minister Mohammad Salim and minister of state for municipal affairs Anju Kar have got embroiled in a dispute among residents of a village in Kalna over a graveyard that one section wants to use as a playground as well.

Kar, seemingly, has an upper-hand in the tussle now.

The section that wants to use a part of the graveyard as a playground has succeeded in stopping a million-rupee project — to build a wall skirting 3.5-acres — sanctioned by Salim’s department and undertaken by the Burdwan administration.

Kar had plunged into the standoff. “A section of users of the graveyard must come to a compromise” if the protective boundary is to be finished, she said.

“I have attended five meetings with both sections,” the minister told The Telegraph. “I have told them that the majority sentiment must be kept in mind — most residents want a portion of the land for a playground — if the wall around the graveyard is to come up at Patilpara,” she said. Kar added that she was aware the work sanctioned by the minorities’ department had stopped.

Patilpara, said district officials, was a “mixed” village with about 1,000 Muslims, 150 Hindus and around 250 Adivasis. The controversy erupted after the Muslims alleged that the adivasis let their pigs roam free inside the graveyard.

They demanded a wall around the graveyard at the earliest. The district administration recommended the construction of a wall around the “existing graveyard… at an early date… (to) prevent further encroachment” to the minorities’ department.

The zilla parishad swung into action following clearance from Writers’ Buildings. A tender was floated for the “construction of a wall surrounding the Muslim graveyard at Patilpara” and the contract — worth Rs 9.63 lakh —was awarded to a local agency. It was told to complete work in three months.

The work started in November but, after several rounds of protests from the adivasis, the masons working for the contractor were beaten up in January. They were threatened not to come back again. Work stopped and has not begun yet.

The minister of state for municipal affairs, also the CPM MLA from Kalna, stepped in in December. Kar held a meeting at the sub-divisional officer’s chamber where both sections of residents and panchayat representatives were present.

The meeting tried to convince the mutwali of the graveyard to “come to a compromise, keeping in mind the sentiments of most people”. He refused. More meetings were held but no solution was in sight.

Kar said starting on the wall without a “compromise being reached first” was not “realistic”. “A playground will be used by everyone. I cannot understand why a part of the graveyard cannot be used as such,” she said.

Last heard, the minorities’ development and welfare department has not yet tried to corner Kar in her fiefdom. The unfinished wall, too, is waiting – for a “compromise” – before it becomes what the administration thought it would turn out to be.

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