Road widening may squeeze cemetery land: Catholics and Jews of Bandra worry about future

Catholic and Jewish communities worry about their cemeteries, even as the municipal corporation makes road widening plans to ease traffic.

The St. Peter’s Seaside Cemetery, Kadeshwari Marg, near Mount Mary’s Steps, was established more than a century ago, around 1906. It serves a sizeable population of Catholics, concentrated in Bandra. It is an active cemetery and large numbers of Catholics have their graves here. About 50 burials take place every year.

On 2nd January 2023, the Joint Municipal Commissioner – Zone III, served a 7-day Notice on St. Peter’s Church, under Sec 299 of the MMC Act 1888, intimating the take-over of a section of our cemetery for road-widening of 9.15 meters, including about 10 graves and the compound wall.

After several protests by the Catholic community and a legal response submitted on 6th January 2023, the Assistant Commissioner H/West ward sent a letter, stating that the previous Notice was withdrawn. It also said the representation of St. Peter’s Church, who manages the St. Peter’s Seaside Cemetery, has been sent to competent authorities “for further needful”.

members of catholic community at a prayer walk
Members of Bombay Catholic Sabha and civilians at a prayer march. Pic: Bombay Catholic Sabha

History of the cemetery

Over a century ago, the area for the cemetery was chosen because it was isolated from habitations, with the sea lapping against its walls on one side. There are about 475 graves in this Cemetery and many of them are Permanent Graves reserved for members of a single family.

For the Christian Community, the graveyard or cemetery is a place of worship. In particular  – on the 2nd day of November every year – the central Catholic Act of Worship is performed in the cemetery, which is otherwise held in the Churches. Moreover, families come to the cemetery right through the year, to pray for their loved ones who have passed away. The grave itself becomes a place of worship.

The Cemetery capacity has already been reached and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find space to bury the dead. This cemetery itself is inadequate for our needs. Instead of allotting more land for burial grounds, it is unfortunate that the small cemetery that we have is sought to be taken away, when easy alternatives are available 50 meters away. It is inconceivable that the MCGM is proposing to take over the part on which several permanent graves belonging to established families of the area are located.

Read More: Urban planning in Mumbai: Who designs our city, and for whom?

Public outcry

On 6th January at a short notice over 700 citizens and community members gathered together at St. Peter’s Hall. The meeting was organised by the St. Peters Community and supported by The Bombay Catholic Sabha (BCS). This issue was discussed by Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas, Vinod Noronha, Secretary General of BCS. A voice vote saying “Not an Inch of our Cemetery Land’’ was taken in the end.

As a follow up on the campaign for protest, a Prayer Walk was planned. On 10th January over 1000 marchers of all communities joined the walk from St. Peters Church, Hill Road to the Cemetery. The walk, which was about two kilometres, concluded by urging the MCGM to withdraw the notice unconditionally. The representative from the Jewish community also addressed the large gathering.

The MCGM would be very insensitive to hurt the religious sentiments of the Catholics, if it were to go ahead with this proposal. We are aware that the same holds for the Jews in Mumbai and there is a proposal to take away a substantial portion of their cemetery land too.

Development plan and cemetery

In the meantime, our attention was drawn to an Amendment of the Development Plan made by the Maharashtra  Government on 12th September 2022, in which Kadeshwari Marg has been denoted as a DP road of 13.40 meters. This means that a larger section of our Cemetery and the Jewish Cemetery on the other side of the road will eventually be taken up.

However, there already exists a DP road of 18 meters width, about 50 meters away, parallel to Kadeshwari Marg, for which the Catholic Church has already given up a large set-back at Nirmala Colony some years back. It is totally unnecessary for Kadeshwari Marg to be widened, when there is an alternate road going to the same junction.

Community concerns about cemetery

The community in Bandra and across Mumbai is extremely upset and angry at the callous way the MCGM has gone about this issue. This has brought sadness as it appears that the MCGM does not respect the religious sentiments of Catholics – a community that has contributed immensely to the people of Bandra and Mumbai through their schools, colleges, hospitals and other charitable works for over 150 years. The St. Stanislaus School, attached to St. Peter’s Church is celebrating this year, in 2023, 160 years of excellence in education. The Catholic community has eight more schools in the area and a large hospital which serves Maharashtra and its people.

The Bombay Catholic Sabha and St. Peter’s Church and the community demands that the Chief Minister and Government of Maharashtra withdraw this Amendment to the Development Plan made in September 2022, so that the seaside cemeteries (Catholic and Jewish) on Kadeshwari Marg are not disturbed.

We will start collecting one lakh signatures on our petition demanding the above withdrawal of the amendment to the DP Plan made in September 2022. This will be launched in the second week of March across Mumbai.

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