When Saboo Mangadiyan’s family friend died in Malad (East) last year, he and his parish friends had to pool in their meagre resources to transport the body to the Oshiwara Christian cemetery, in the western suburbs.
The long funeral route has become a ritual for more than eight lakh Christians residing along the Western Express Highway, between Bandra and Dahisar, as there is not a single burial ground for the community in the eastern suburbs.
The two plots that the civic body had allotted for community burial grounds, in Kandivli (East) and Goregaon (East) in 1996 has not yet been handed over to the community, and activists are convinced that authorities are indifferent to their problems.
“People in my parish are poor, but we have to spend up to Rs15,000 for each funeral, as there is no cemetery nearby. Even the poor have to bury the dead,” said Mangadiyan, 50, who runs a plastic moulds manufacturing business and is an activist with the United Christian Community Centre (UCCC), the trust fighting for the acquisition of the Kandivli and Goregaon plots, for the last nine years.
Plots for community burial grounds are allotted by the civic body and then sanctioned by the state’s urban development department. “The government has been sitting on the Kandivli and Goregaon cases since the beginning of 2010,” said Simon Serrao, trustee, UCCC. He added that the Kandivli plot is being encroached upon by an adjoining graveyard belonging to another community. “Authorities have shown no will to speed up the acquisition procedure or check encroachments by demarcating a boundary.”
“Space shortage for burial grounds has become an acute problem in the state,” admitted TC Benjamin, principal secretary, urban development department. He claimed that allocation of burial grounds is top priority, but was not aware of the delay with regard to the Kandivli and Goregaon plots. Benjamin added that town planning rules in the state do not have norms for cremation or burial ground allocation. “When our development plans are revised in 2014, we will include a survey of population patterns and amenities that different communities need.”
Panvel residents have same grouse
In Panvel, both Christians and Muslims have no burial ground, though the communities have been demanding space for the past 20 years. In 2009, the City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) leased adjacent plots of around 4,000 sq m each in Panvel Sector 12.
However, the sanction of this plot has been stayed since last year, when 11 housing societies filed a petition in the Bombay high court. Activists claim that CIDCO has leased the land to Christian trusts for five years. “Though the lease is renewable, the agreement states that Cidco can take it back for development,” said activist John Miranda.