Angry locals and mourning relatives of the four children who drowned in a pit at Gopalpur in North Delhi have demanded strict action against those responsible for the tragic deaths. The bodies of the victims were cremated on Saturday after post-mortem.

The children in the 7-11age group drowned in an open pit filled with water, which is said to have accumulated from a leakage in a pipeline.

After news of the deaths spread, a large number of locals gathered at the scene of the tragedy around 9 a.m. on Saturday. As the pit is located near Ring Road, it led to a brief traffic jam and the police had to disperse the crowd to ensure smooth flow of traffic. The police said no force was used.

Case registered

Deputy Commissioner of Police (North Delhi) Sagar Preet Hooda said: “A case of causing death due to negligence has been registered against unknown persons and investigations are under way to fix responsibility.”

The pit in which the children drowned is located in a gated complex. The police are trying to find out if anyone had been deployed for the supervision or maintenance of the complex.

Blame game

The Delhi Jal Board on Saturday absolved itself of any blame for the negligence that led to the death of the children. It shifted responsibility to the Irrigation and Flood Control Department of the Delhi Government.

While residents complained that the Jal Board took no action to cover the pit and fix the leakage, the water utility said the land (with the open pit) was owned by the Irrigation and Flood Control and Irrigation Department.

“The Jal Board did carry out work in the area but handed over the land to the Flood Control and Irrigation Department. The work involved changing the alignment of the 1,100-mm West Delhi mains emanating from the Wazirabad water treatment plant. The work was started in 2009 and completed on January 28. We then carried out the trial on February 26 and handed over the area to the Irrigation and Flood Control Department,” said a Jal Board spokesperson.

He said the area was enclosed by a wall and the gate leading up to the pit was kept locked. Residents, however, alleged that the wall had been broken at several places, allowing access to where the water had accumulated.

“The Delhi Jal Board has set up a committee headed by the Chief Engineer (Central-North) to inquire into the incident. The committee has been given four days to file its report. The police are also independently carrying out an investigation, and if it comes out that the DJB contractors who were involved in the work are responsible, then penal action will be taken,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, reacting to the DJB statement, the Irrigation and Flood Control Department claimed that the land was still with the water utility.

An official said the Jal Board was supposed to drain out the water that had accumulated in the pit and then hand over the land to them.

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has announced a compensation of Rs.1 lakh each to the families of the victims.