30 Oct 2022 | 05:33 am IST Lack of community cemeteries remains a serious problem Thirteen long years have passed since the Goa Law Commission recommended the establishment of community cemeteries across the state, especially to cater to those who practice no religion or belief. Fast-forward to the present day, especially last year as the death toll rose during the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, and it is noted that little has been done by the government and allied agencies to give every human being the fundamental right to a final decision resting place. Vithaldas Hegde reports:
The need for communal cemeteries in the state for all people, regardless of religion or belief, was probably never felt more intensely than during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a steadily rising death toll caused several religious cemeteries to fill almost completely. Still, no lessons seem to have been learned by the state administration, as very little has been done in this area.
The issue is not new, however. Way back in 2009, the Goa Law Commission, in a report submitted to the government, had recommended that the Goa Public Crematoria and Burial Places Bill be introduced in the Assembly. It had said that crematoriums and cemeteries established by law must be available for cremation and/or burial for deceased people of all religions, caste, creed, gender, residence or nationality.
Five years later, in May 2014, a Sanguem doctor, Anthony Rodrigues, approached the Goa Human Rights Commission (GHRC) to ask for directions from local self-governing agencies across the state to provide community cemeteries for people of no faith.
In his complaint, Rodrigues had argued that the state is required by law, both within the framework of its powers as a welfare state and to protect the rights of such persons in the extended sense of Article 21 of the Constitution, to dispose of a body by by means of a decent and dignified cremation or burial in accordance with the religious beliefs held or professed by the man.
Rodrigues’ complaint was dealt with by the GHRC in November 2017 with an order to all local self-governing bodies in the state to file reports on the communal cemeteries in their area about the measures taken. It had also ordered that an investigative report, along with reports of the measures taken, be published in the Government Gazette in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
Unfortunately, not much has been done about this since then. An example of this is the commercial capital of the state, Margao.
In its “action taken” report, the Margao City Council had stated that at least 1,000 square meters of the 30,000 square meters of land in Sonsoddo earmarked for Kabrastan would be set aside as a burial ground for persons of different faiths and developed accordingly, it claimed. Rodrigues. He also said that the Bombay High Court in Goa subsequently ordered the PWD, the Goa State Urban Development Agency (GSUDA) and the Municipality of Margao to undertake and complete work on a full-fledged cemetery within six months.
Interestingly, the Margao City Council passed a resolution on April 19, 2016 to make the necessary arrangements after demarcating a portion of an existing land set aside for the burial of a person of any faith, or to provide for a separate cremation and burial. But the resolution was withdrawn five years later due to public agitation.
With little progress being made, not only in Margao but also in other parts of the state, Rodrigues wrote a letter to the Director of the Municipal Administration (DMA) and the Director of Panchayats earlier this year to remind them that communal cemeteries exist. needed.
Apart from him, Philip Fernandes, a resident of Benaulim, wrote a similar letter to Prime Minister Pramod Sawant in July 2021 to request permission for a cemetery for people of other faiths in South Goa district. He pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic, which ripped across the state earlier that year, had raised the serious problem of not allowing people to bury or cremate the dead because of religious prejudice.
Following Rodrigues’ letter, the DMA wrote to the chief officers of all city councils and the Commissioner of the Corporation of City of Panaji (CCP) about the implementation of the GHRC’s recommendations on cemeteries. Out of 13 city councils, only seven replied with details of the measures taken to implement the Commission’s order.
Among them was the Ponda City Council, which stated that it has set aside a communal cemetery for all communities in its jurisdiction.
Mapusa City Council stated in its response that the North Goa Planning and Development Authority (NGPDA) has identified the land purchase in Cunchelim and started to build a cemetery/crematorium for those who do not practice any religion or belief. The metropolitan planner had also issued an order to penalize a subsidy of Rs eight crore for land acquisition expenditure, it said.
“We will now send reminders to other councils to ask them to carry out the order of the GHRC,” said Gurudas Pilarnekar, director of municipal administration.