Following a public interest litigation highlighting a “critical shortage” of burial spaces in the city, the Bombay high court has issued notices to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), and the state government asking if the state has a “policy in place to address the problem.”
A bench led by Justice VM Kanade, in a recent hearing, also asked the state government to list out the steps taken to “maintain, repair and upgrade existing burial grounds and crematoriums” and to inform the court of the steps that it “proposes to take in the future” to find a solution to the problem of shortage.
The bench has also specifically asked the government to inform what steps have been taken towards creating the proposed burial space for the Muslim community in the Vikhroli area—following complaints from residents, the government had proposed to create a new burial ground in the area. Some salt pan land in the area had been identified for the purpose and while the union government informed the court that it had approved the site, the state government was yet to take a decision.
The directions came while the bench was hearing a PIL filed by a city resident Sayed Zulfikar Ahmed.
As per the plea, the city has about 200 odd crematoria and cemeteries, of which BMC manages 64. These include 43 crematoria, eight Christian cemeteries, and 13 cemeteries for Muslims. The plea further said that not only are these burial grounds severely overcrowded, most of them are “poorly maintained and have no security arrangements.”
The plea also said that the state does not maintain any data to suggest which ward needs additional burial space.
“There is no doubt that the city faces a major space shortage but the government needs to tackle critical problems immediately. Finding ways to stop cemeteries from overflowing and to create additional and suitable space for burial grounds is vital. However, this can be done only if the government has a well-rounded policy to identify, create, and maintain new spaces, and also to look beyond traditional methods,” the bench said. “Some countries and communities are gradually beginning to embrace re-using or recycling old graves. A small percentage of the Parsi community has also begun to opt for Hindu crematoria since there aren’t any more vultures at the Tower of Silence,” the bench said.
The high court is likely to take up the matter for further hearing on December 5.