Issues Raised Regarding the Land Allotted at Aarey for a Christian Burial Ground
ISSUES RAISED REGARDING LAND ALLOTTED AT AAREY FOR A CHRISTIAN BURIAL GOUND IN THE CONTEXT OF THE METRO RAIL PROJECT/DEFORESTATION
There are three issues which have, unfortunately, been interconnected by certain individuals, which need to be understood here:
1. The allotment of a burial ground for Christians at Aarey
2. The construction of the Metro Car Shed at Aarey and the ongoing protest against the deforestation being undertaken to accomplish this.
3. The Christian ‘element’ in both.
1. Christian Burial Ground at Aarey
A burial / cremation ground was demarcated in the 1992 DP plan for the Hindus, Muslims and Christians. However, for the Christian community, that remained an allotment only on paper. In 2016, the authorities were petitioned and recognised the urgent and dire need for a burial ground for Christians, and after a protracted procedure of land reservation change, a plot was allotted in Aarey Colony, Goregaon (E), next to the Muslim cemetery and Hindu cremation ground. The allotment was cancelled in January 2017, by The State Agriculture, Dairy and Fisheries Department, and the BMC began to construct a nullah through the middle of the intended cemetery. The nullah work was stopped at the intervention of the High Court, and the BMC agreed to give a 5,000-sq. m. plot for Christian burial in Aarey Colony.
However, as on date, the land is yet to be handed over. At present, there is no functioning Christian cemetery at Aarey.
2. Metro Car Shed at Aarey and protests against the consequent deforestation
This is what has been reported in the News:
“Denotification of 165 hectares of forest land has been demanded and cleared for this purpose. Despite citizens' outrage and the availability of other alternate locations, the Government of Maharashtra remains adamant about locating its car shed here. There have been allegations that the zoning of Aarey forest (From NDZ to Commercial) in the new Development Plan has been changed to benefit the builder lobbies in the city. The government has further denied in open court that Aarey is a forest despite the fact that Government records clearly show the land having been declared as a forest as far back as 1969.”
The protest against the Metro Car Shed is ongoing. The Supreme Court has also stayed the further felling of trees. The protestors comprise citizens of Mumbai across all walks of life as also NGOs. Christians, too, form part of the protest groups in the interest of conservation and the environmental impact on the future of the metropolis. While it is an issue to which we lend our voice, it is not solely our issue but one that affects the public at large and future generations, as can be seen from the demographics of the protesters.
3. Why Christians are being targeted
Vested interests have conveniently targeted Christian as being hypocritical in that they could give up the burial ground in Aarey (5000 sq mt or 0.5 hectare versus the required 165 hectares) in the greater interest of preserving the forest land. They have also singled out the Christian community for joining the protest.
First, the space allocation in Aarey was made by the Government and while the Christians have petitioned for a burial ground on the eastern side of the western suburbs, the location was not specified by them.
Second, space allocation was made to all three communities: Hindu, Muslim, and Christian.
Third, of the three locations, the actual allotment has been made to only the Hindu and Muslim communities which are in possession of their plots. The plot for the Christian community has yet to be handed over either in Aarey or an alternative plot, in lieu, elsewhere.
The issues that need to be addressed:
1. Christians have a right to burial space which has been acknowledged by the High Court. This issue has dragged on for four years and needs immediate redressal.
2. There is no question of surrendering the allocation at Aarey since we do not have any such plot in our possession.
3. The protests against the Metro Car Shed has been spearheaded by environmentalists and concerned citizens which include Christians. As citizens of this State and Country, we have the right to use our voices in a peaceful protest against anything which is counter to our best interests and that of future citizens.
4. This appears to be an attempt to use the situation to malign the Christian community and foment trouble against it. The vested interests may need to be addressed in the public forum and through legal means.
5. Awareness needs to be created among the Christian community about the status quo regarding the burial ground, and the forward action being taken by the authorities.
6. Awareness also needs to be created among the community at large about the truth of the various issues raised, in the light of the above.
Archdiocese of Bombay
15th October 2019