The Bombay High Court’s (HC) directive asking Municipal commissioner Bhushan Gagrani to earmark a plot of land in the M/East ward for a cemetery is seen by local residents in Mankhurd and Govandi as a step towards ensuring they can bury their loved ones with dignity. .

For nearly five years, residents of Govandi, Shivaji Nagar, Mankhurd, and Rafiq Nagar did not have a proper cemetery, as the two existing cemeteries have reached full capacity.

These areas, falling under the M/East ward, house people from Lower Income Groups (LIG) and have a significant Muslim population. This ward is one of the most densely populated in the city, and residents rely on the cemeteries at Deonar and Rafiq Nagar for last rites.

Faiyaz Shaikh, a local resident who brought this issue to civic authorities last year, said, “The Rafiq Nagar and Deonar cemeteries together accommodate 4,000 graves. Currently, their overall capacity has maxed out, forcing citizens to bury their dead in existing graves that have not yet decomposed.”

Typically, it takes 18 months for buried bodies to decompose. However, local redidents reported that in many cases over the past years, bodies buried 20 months ago were not decomposed, leading to multiple bodies being buried in a single grave.

Festive offer

In June last year, it was observed that bodies buried in these cemeteries were not decomposing properly. Following this, the civic body shut down the cemeteries and conducted soil testing in all three cemeteries.

Naziya Ali, whose 83-year-old grandmother passed away in November, told the Indian Express they had to bury her grandmother in Ghatkopar because the Govandi cemeteries were shut.

“For more than three years now, the Rafiq Nagar and Deonar cemeteries have been operated alternately. Even to bury our kin in Ghatkopar, we had to obtain written permission as the caretakers were reluctant since that graveyard is also nearing full capacity,” Ali said.

Last year, the Deputy Municipal Commissioner’s (DMC) office wrote to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) Development Plan (DP) department, seeking a land parcel in Deonar for a cemetery for the Muslim community.

However, the land handover has not yet occurred.

The reservation status of the Govandi plot was initially for a cemetery under the civic body’s DP 2034 plan. However, this reservation was canceled in 2022 by the state government’s urban development (UD) department. The local DMC’s office then asked the BMC’s DP department to coordinate with the UD department to reacquire the plot for the cemetery.

“We have written to the UDD, which sought a deposit from us, pending due to the Lok Sabha election code of conduct. We are following up with our departments to adhere to the legal aspects to ensure the plot’s reservation can be changed back,” said a senior BMC official anonymously.

The delay in allotting the land had miffed the Bombay HC.

On Monday, observing that “the right of the dead to be given a decent and respectful last rites is as important as any other right available when he or she is alive,” the court pulled up the BMC and other authorities for their “callousness”. in providing additional burial grounds for Sunni Muslims in the Govandi-Deonar area.

A division bench of Chief Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice Amit Borkar heard a PIL by lawyer Shamsher Ahmed Shaikh and two other Govandi residents, seeking an additional Sunni Muslim cemetery in the Govandi-Deonar area, citing a shortage of space in existing cemeteries.

The court directed BMC Commissioner Bhushan Gagrani to personally look into the matter and issue necessary directions to find another plot of land for a burial ground within three kilometers of Rafi Nagar, as the previously identified plot was deemed non-feasible.

“Now, following the court’s orders, if the administration acts accordingly and space is allotted to us, people can at least die in peace, even as our lives are filled with daily struggles,” Ali said.