BENGALURU: Saraswati is still numb from the tragedy of losing her husband Shanthakumar, a 34-year-old JCB operator who was washed away while fixing an overflowing drain in Kurubarahalli on May 20. The body was never found.
The 24-year-old mother of two young sons is now facing another tragedy: Official callousness.
BBMP officials responsible for handing over the promised compensation have put forth a condition before Saraswati: First produce Shanthakumar’s body as proof of death, then claim the money.
Mayor G Padmavathi and Bengaluru development minister K J George had announced Rs 10 lakh for the family. But 20 days down the line, the family is yet to receive even a single rupee.
Saraswati says this is what BBMP officials told her: “Bring your husband’s body and then take compensation. If you want immediate compensation, come along with the area MLA and take Rs 1 lakh.”
When asked about the callousness of the civic agency officials, BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad told Express, “If the family specifies the names of those officers who asked to produce Shanthakumar’s body, we will take appropriate action against them. Legally it takes seven years for a person to be declared dead if the body is not recovered.”
But he added, “On humanitarian basis, we are doing our best to support the family by processing the compensation file faster.”
Meanwhile, Saraswati has no time to even grieve her husband’s death in her Peenya home as she worries over the next meal. She has two boys to look after, one 3 years old and the other just 9 months, and has no job in hand.
“He was the sole breadwinner. Had the family of any government or BBMP official been in a similar situation, would they be asked the same question,” she asks, adding, “I do not think they care about the poor. They searched for Shanthakumar for four days and then forgot about him.”
Since the day her husband Shanthakumar was washed away while fixing an overflowing drain in Kurubarahalli on May 20, Saraswati has not stepped out of her house. “I come out only when my older son returns from school. I do not know why the search operation was called off after four days. My relatives also searched for him for a week. But it all went in vain,” she said.
Recalling that fateful night, she said though Shanthakumar came near their house two hours before the incident, he did not come inside as he feared his children would prevent him from going back to work.
“My nine-month-old son Druhith cried nonstop on the night his father did not turn up. Every night since my husband went missing, my older son Mounish asks when his father will return home.”
Saraswati’s husband Shanthakumar, a BBMP contract worker, was washed away while repairing a drain in Kurubarahalli on May 20.
Basavaraju, brother-in-law of Saraswati, had repeatedly visited the BBMP head office in connection with the compensation. “They always told him to bring the area MLA to get Rs 1 lakh as compensation. When we asked about the announcement of Rs 10 lakh before the media, they questioned as to how they could give the compensation without the body being recovered,” Saraswati said. She added, “I am shocked. How could they break their promise despite giving us an assurance in front of mediapersons. What was the basis on which they made this promise?”
Basavaraju told Express that he has spent the last 10 days chasing the compensation file from one official to another. Initially the file was sent to the Commissioner who referred it to the Special Commissioner. He referred it to the Mayor. The file was returned to the Special Commissioner who approved it and sent it to the Mayor. However, the compensation is yet to be paid.
Responding to the delay in payment, Mayor Padmavathi said the council has to approve the allocation of money. “The government will give Rs 1 lakh and I have announced Rs 9 lakh from the Mayor’s fund. The special commissioner signed on the file but it has to be approved in the Council meeting. I will visit the family within a week to hand over the cheque.”
Dog refuses food
Eversince Shanthakumar’s disappearance, the family pet dog Jockey has refused to take food. Shanthakumar had brought him home four years ago. The dog was so devoted to Shanthakumar that he would follow his master up to the road on the way to work daily.
WASHED AWAY WITHOUT A TRACE
May 20: Shanthakumar was called by his contractor in the night to operate a JCB to fix a drain in Kurubarahalli near Mahalakshmi Layout. But he was washed away in the heavy rain even as co-workers tried to rescue him. Fire personnel began search ops that lasted till midnight.
May 21: Three rescue teams at different sewage clearing points lifted silt along a 3-km distance till Sumnahalli ring road. Bengaluru in-charge minister KJ George along with Mayor visited the spot and announced compensation of Rs 10 to the family.
May 22: Search operation continued with NDRF team around Kengeri. Residents alerted that he saw a floating body at Kengeri gate on Sunday evening. But after a through search, no body was found.
May 23: Search operation called off as body remained untraced. Later more than 80 relatives of Shanthakumar searched for the body the next day.