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Mumbai: Re-opening cemeteries opens a fresh can of worms

Updated on: 10 August,2023 06:59 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

Following mid-day’s reports of shortage of burial spaces, civic body tried reopening Deonar and Rafi Nagar burial grounds but hits decomposing body during first attempt

Mumbai: Re-opening cemeteries opens a fresh can of worms

Rafi Nagar cemetery has been closed for burials. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

After a two-month hiatus, the Deonar and Rafi Nagar Muslim cemeteries were slated to reopen on Wednesday. However, chaos ensued at the Rafi Nagar cemetery when another grave was unearthed, revealing yet another partially decomposed body.
Locals had gathered at the Rafi Nagar cemetery and raised objections. We are working to open it as soon as possible,” said Dr Sanjay Phundre, the medical officer of health. Meanwhile, permission for burial was also denied at the Deonar cemetery. “It will likely reopen on Thursday, but only if locals agree,” he added.

Notably, partially decomposed bodies were also discovered at the Deonar cemetery, and currently, there is no available space for more bodies there. However, authorities plan to implement stacked burials to accommodate the increasing number of bodies. This practice is already in effect at Rafi Nagar.

The closure of the two cemeteries has put a strain on the Chedha Nagar cemetery. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
The closure of the two cemeteries has put a strain on the Chedha Nagar cemetery. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

A local resident started a live video on Facebook when BMC officials visited the Rafi Nagar cemetery to assess the buried body. In the video, resident Ateeque Ahmed mentioned, “There is still flesh on the bones and a foul odour.” He can also be seen engaging in a heated confrontation with BMC officials. “We compelled them to stop. It is extremely undignified and disrespectful to our sentiments that bodies are being exhumed when there is still flesh on them,” he said.

When partially decomposed bodies were first discovered at the Rafi Nagar cemetery 18 months after burial in June, authorities responded by agreeing to conduct soil quality tests in response to residents’ demands. DMC (Zone V) Harshad Kale remarked, “We reevaluated the soil quality and recently received satisfactory reports.”

Another perspective suggests that many of the partially decomposed bodies were buried during the peak of COVID-19. “The body bags that were employed during that time to prevent the spread of infection were of high quality, which is hindering the natural decomposition of the bodies in the soil,” he said.

The closure of the two cemeteries in the M-East region has put significant strain on the Chedha Nagar cemetery in the N ward, as it is closer to Govandi residents. Kale commented, “Unless we excavate the graves to assess the situation, it will be difficult to make any decisions. We need to reopen the two cemeteries by tomorrow or the day after.”

BMC had also issued a similar notice in late July, announcing the forthcoming reopening of the Rafi Nagar graveyard for burials. However, this decision was reversed after the discovery of additional decomposed bodies. 

2 months
Duration the cemeteries were closed for

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