New Delhi: With an increasing number of deaths due to Covid-19 in Delhi, the largest cemetery in the national capital is soon likely to have no space left for burials.
The Jadid Qabristan Ahle Islam cemetery, spread over 45 acres at ITO, has buried over 700 bodies of Covid victims so far. Mohammad Shameem, supervisor of the graveyard, told ThePrint they now have space to bury just 60 more bodies.
On Tuesday, Delhi registered 99 deaths, same as Monday — the highest since 12 November when daily deaths touched a record high of 104.
Delhi has registered over 1,000 deaths in November alone. In the last week, the national capital recorded 730 deaths. Between 9-16 November, Delhi recorded 77 deaths on 9 November, 83 on 10 November, 85 on 11 November, 104 on 12 November, 91 on 13 November, 96 on 14 November, 95 on 15 November and 99 on 16 November.
“If deaths continue to rise like this, we will soon face a shortage. We have space for only 60 more bodies here,” said Shameem.
At the cemetery Tuesday afternoon, Shameem and his lone helper were waiting for a Covid dead body to arrive.
“Yesterday (Monday), we did not get any bodies as it was a holiday. But over the last week we have been getting 2-3 bodies a day,” said Shameem. “We have already buried over 700 bodies here. If we continue to get 2-3 bodies a day, we will soon run out of space,” he added.
‘Bulk of the bodies come to the cemetery’
According to the Delhi Minority Commission’s 2017 report on graveyards in the city, the Jadid Qabristan Ahle Islam Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the national capital.
Besides this cemetery, there are three other graveyards in the city where burials of Covid victims have been allowed, but none of them are even a fraction of the size of the Jadid cemetery.
The three other graveyards are Muslim Qabristan in Mangolpuri (two acres), Buland Masjid Muslim Qabristan in Shastri Park (one acre) and Mulla Colony Muslim Qabristan near Kondli (2.4 acres).
In the beginning of the pandemic, the Jadid cemetery was divided into two sections — one for Covid and another for non-Covid burials.
“Of the 45 acres, we were initially given 1.6 acres for Covid burials,” said Shameem. “Since then, land has been allotted for Covid burials an additional three times and yet space is running out,” he added.
The Delhi Waqf Board, which oversees the functioning of the cemetery, has already allotted land in three installments in the course of the pandemic to make space for increasing Covid burials.
“We were first given 1.6 acres, and then we got three installments of an acre each. The last allotment was in October and even this is running out now…,” he added.
Shameem said the bulk of the bodies comes to the cemetery for burial because of its size.
“The other cemeteries are not even half the size of our cemetery, which is why most bodies are directed here. Some bodies get diverted to other cemeteries, but most come here,” he added.
‘No response from govt yet’
While the upkeep of the cemetery is handled by the Delhi Waqf Board, it falls under the jurisdiction of North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), which is run by the BJP.
The NDMC has reached out to both the Delhi Waqf Board and the AAP government, requesting for more land allotment for Covid burials, but hasn’t got any response yet.
“We had written a letter to both the Delhi Waqf Board as well as the Delhi government before Diwali about the space shortage here. But we haven’t got any response yet. Delhi is seeing an average of 100 deaths a day since the last week, a decision needs to be taken on where all these bodies will go” said Jai Prakash, mayor, NDMC.
When ThePrint asked AAP MLA and waqf board member Amanatullah Khan about how the board plans to manage the shrinking space of the cemetery for burials, he said: “We hope it doesn’t come to that.”
ThePrint reached the Delhi government’s Director General of Health Services Dr Nutan Mundeja and Principal Secretary, Health, Vikram Dev Dutt through phone calls and email, but received no response till the time of publication of this report.