Chennai’s Christian cemeteries weighed down by space crunch

CHENNAI, 10/08/2019 : A view of Kilpauk Cemetry, in Chennai on Saturday. Photo: R. Ravindran.

CHENNAI, 10/08/2019 : A view of Kilpauk Cemetry, in Chennai on Saturday. Photo: R. Ravindran.

Cemeteries in the city are running out of space. In a few years from now, none of the three main Christian cemeteries will be open for fresh burials, with the exemption of re-opening of family graves after the mandatory waiting period of 14 years.

The immediate need, according to members of the Christian community and officials, is the allocation of new land to bury the dead.

Be it cemeteries under the control of Chennai Corporation or those managed by the Madras Cemeteries Board Trust, scarcity of space has been a cause for concern. But this space crunch is nothing new. In 2005, one of the oldest cemeteries in the city — the Kilpauk Old Cemetery that is managed by the trust — shut its gates for fresh burials after it ran out of space.

Multi-tier vaults

The trust had constructed a multi-tier vault system of burial inside the Kilpauk Old Cemetery, but all 450 vaults are filled up. As of now, only graves of those who were buried 14 years ago are re-opened to bury a deceased member of the same family.

The Kilpauk Old Cemetery, a British-era facility opened in 1903, is spread around 16 acres and has nearly 50,000 graves, members of the trust said. Another cemetery that dates back to the same period and is maintained by the trust is the one at Kasimedu. Though currently in use, the cemetery has about 5,000 graves and space will last for one or two years, said A. Jayasekar, secretary of the trust.

It is the Corporation’s exclusive cemeteries for Christians in the city — St. Mary’s Cemetery at Mandaveli and Kilpauk Cemetery near Shenoy Nagar — that are providing the much-needed space now. But both these cemeteries are almost full and will be closed in a few years, officials said.

To tackle the space shortage, the Corporation has added a new cemetery to its list. From August 1, a cemetery has begun is functioning at Karapakkam. In addition to these, there are a few cemeteries that are owned and maintained by certain churches.

Posing a problem

Asir Pandian, general secterary of Young Men’s Christian Association, Madras, felt the lack of space in cemeteries was posing a problem. “Christian leaders should come together and approach the State government, seeking allotment of land on the outskirts of the city, or purchase land for the sake of burials,” he said.

S. Bosco Alangar Raj, treasurer of the Madras Cemeteries Board Trust, said they had met the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, requesting allocation of land for a cemetery, and she had assured them that she would look into it.

“Three years ago, the trust submitted a letter to the Corporation, seeking land in Ambattur or Madhavaram for a cemetery. If the government allots land in any of these places, we are ready to arrange for a hearse van that will help transportation from the city. We will not construct tombs except for a headstone for the indication of the name [of the deceased],” he said.

The trust has also been encouraging ash burials, but willingness among people is low. “Ash burials have become a practice is many countries. We receive about four to five ash burials in a year. We provide a small space for burying the ash,” he said.

Officials said there were a few small cemeteries in extended areas of the city, but people were unaware of them. “As a result, the two cemeteries in Mandaveli and Shenoy Nagar are utilised the most. It is difficult to get land within the city,” an official said.

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Printable version | May 25, 2022 3:25:14 pm |