New Delhi: The national capital’s largest Muslim cemetery has run out of space to bury Covid-19 patients, highlighting an alleged space crunch plaguing the community for the burial of its dead in Delhi amid the pandemic.
According to the ITO-situated Jadid Qabristan Ahle Islam’s secretary Shami Ahmed Khan, the cemetery isn’t accepting bodies anymore as its 5-acre space earmarked for Covid burial is filled. Khan told ThePrint that nearly 1,400 Covid bodies have been buried at the site over the last two years and there is no space left now.
This has resulted in further agony for the relatives of Muslim Covid victims, particularly from south Delhi, who are being forced to travel to the Mangolpuri burial site in north-west Delhi.
Mangolpuri Public Health Inspector Vijay Yadav said the site has space for only 350-400 more Covid bodies. He is concerned about the crisis that may arise if deaths due to Covid go up in the third wave as rapidly as they did during the second wave.
“In the second wave, we had enough space for Muslim burials but if all of south Delhi load is transferred onto us, then we might run out of space,” said Yadav, who is with the North Delhi Municipal Corporation.
Since 1 January, Mangolpuri has received 11 Covid bodies from the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) area, he added.
ITO is the biggest cemetery accepting Covid bodies. Covid burials aren’t happening at Madanpur Khadar and Okhla sites because of resistance by residents in the area. Shastri Park is also accepting Covid bodies but has limited capacity. The majority of the SDMC load is currently being transferred to Mangolpuri, said an SDMC source.
On Wednesday, Delhi reported 40 Covid deaths, the highest single-day figure since 10 June 2020.
However, the issue over burials is also mired in a political controversy.
The Jadid Qabristan Ahle Islam cemetery, which is the oldest burial site in Delhi, has alternative land available with it near the Millenium Indraprastha Park, but there is a long-running dispute over it and the plot is not in use currently due to alleged opposition by Hindutva outfits.
However, an SDMC official who refused to be named accused the cemetery management of playing backdoor politics to get the dispute resolved, adding that there is no issue with space to bury the dead.
ThePrint sent an email to the SDMC commissioner’s office Thursday afternoon for a comment, and a response was awaited at the time of publishing this report.
Disputed land near millennium Park
In 1964, the President of India had given 14 acres of land to the management committee of the New Cemetery for Mohammedans, which runs the Jadid Qabristan Ahle Islam.
This land was later occupied by the Delhi Development Authority, which developed the Millennium Indraprastha Park in the area, usurping the adjacent graveyard land too. In 2014, the DDA was asked to demarcate the 14 acres of land and give it to the Waqf board.
While 4 acres was allotted to the Waqf board and separately demarcated, 10 acres of this land is still disputed.
However, burials in the 4-acre plot were reportedly opposed by the Vishva Hindu Parishad last year, which claimed that the Waqf Board was encroaching public space.
“Where do we go? Where do we bury our bodies? Why are they stopping us? Who does that in the middle of such tough times? It is grave injustice to Muslims that we are unable to use our own land for burials. We have kabza on 4 acres of land. We have put up barricades, we have made rooms there. It’s not a public park. I don’t understand why we can’t use it,” said Khan.
He also alleged that if anyone tries to take out a funeral in the area, Hindutva groups like the Bajrang Dal create a ruckus, and police offer no help. “The SHO himself calls the Bajrang Dal to create ruckus,” Khan alleged.
However, Vijay Sanwal, SHO, Sunlight Colony Police Station, under which the Indraprastha graveyard area comes, said he isn’t aware of any such situation. “We have no knowledge of any problems at any burial site. We have nothing to do with burials,” Sanwal told ThePrint.
What the SDMC and police have said
An SDMC official said the cemetery has created an artificial scarcity.
“What the cemetery management is doing is nothing but blackmail. Currently, the Jadid committee has a disputed land near Millennium Park and wants the SDMC to jump in and resolve the dispute,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The official noted that the ITO site is allegedly in violation of the Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC) Act due to its refusal to bury the Covid dead.
“The ITO burial site management is in violation of Section 392 of the DMC Act, under which the commissioner can ask burial sites to accept any body, and they can’t refuse. The issue at ITO graveyard is they have run out of space for Covid bodies, not other bodies. One can’t discriminate between Covid and non-Covid bodies,” the official said.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)