COVID-19 and burial policies

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What chance could the dead have of securing a place in cities when unbridled and rampant urbanisation has made it difficult for most people to afford even living there.Across the world, graveyards, at least in major metros, were already running out of space. Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has made the situation grave.As the virus spreads through the population, the bodies are piling up left, right and centre (quite literally) and burial grounds which were already under pressure are now showing signs of strain. As per a report published in 2018 by Delhi Minorities Commission, a sectarian organisation funded by taxpayers, there was space enough to bury only 30,000 more people. Yearly, Muslim burials alone are more than 13,000. Similar situation prevailed in other Indian metros like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, etc. Given that these cities are also one of the biggest victims of the epidemic and Muslims are being disproportionally hit for various reasons, burial grounds will run out of space quicker than previously estimated. Kabristans at Mulla Colony and Bulland Masjid that come under East Delhi municipal corporation are now refusing to accommodate the dead. Less land availability makes burial a costly affair (price for permanent graves can be as high as Rs 50,000). Thanks to this, Christians in some places are now increasingly opting for cremation. In the United States which is an overwhelmingly Christian majority country, more than half of the dead are cremated rather than buried but space is not the only factor that contributes to high cost of burial.

Other factors like embalming, type of coffin, transportation, etc can also jack up the overall price of a funeral. First, it needs to nationalise all burial grounds and should have a policy of not allowing any privately owned graveyards in the future. However, their management can be contracted out to non-governmental organisations including the private sector firms and the prices of burials can be capped. Second, all the cemeteries that are now full, and which do not have permanent or marked graves, should be converted into wildlife sanctuaries or public parks/playgrounds or to supplement other public infrastructure lacking in the area where they are located. The graveyards which are not full should be developed into modern burial grounds with focus on efficient utilisation of limited space. This can include multi-storey burial buildings with basements and high-rises. Other alternative is having a vault system where cells are created in a sphere-shaped wall structure with a pit at the centre and as the bodies decompose, the remains can be pushed into the pit (some cemeteries in New Delhi already follow this model).This means that a small burial ground can be in use for a long period of time and there is no need for the government to constantly allot land for graveyards. Third, permanent graves should be disallowed everywhere. All burials should be green meaning that embalming chemicals should be outlawed along with burying the dead using cement, steel or other non-biodegradable materials.

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