Residents of three housing societies in Thane have objected to the proposal of a local church to use an open plot of land in their locality as a burial ground. They claim that the land has been reserved as a playground and it would not be a healthy sight for children playing in the park to witness burials. The problem started in May 2019 when the residents of the housing societies noticed five crosses put up on the playground and all the playing equipment removed. Surekha Ambekar, a member of the housing society committee of Ravi Estate CHS, told LCW: Residents of the three societies protested on May 5, 2019, after they noticed the crosses on the playground the day before. As per official documents, the plot belongs to the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC), which has reserved it as a playground. There is hardly any playing space in cities and if available grounds are used for other purposes, where will our children play? Besides, burial ceremonies will create a morbid atmosphere for our residents. Parishioners, meanwhile, claim that no burial has been held so far and that the crosses were put up as a mark of protest against the dearth of burial spaces for the Christian community. In March 2019, the TMC had lodged an FIR against 11 parishioners after they buried a 95-year-old former Army man in the premises of Our Lady of Mercy Church as there was no burial ground available. According to Melwyn Fernandes, secretary of the Association of Concerned Catholics, the parishioners moved the Bombay High Court to seek permission for a burial ground inside the church premises. He says Roman Catholics have a tradition of burying their dead near a church. In May 2019, the court ordered the TMC to measure the plot and determine which portion of the land is the playground and which portion belongs to the church. The TMC is yet to comply to the court order. We have requested the TMC commissioner multiple times to sort out the matter as it has been a year, Ambekar added. Fernandes also told LCW that his association has filed an RTI at the TMC to know the current status of the case and added that they would file a Contempt of Court petition against the TMC. LCW called up the office of the TMC multiple times but nobody responded. Nishikant Sawant, secretary of Ravi Estate CHS, told a news daily that in the past, the residents had also objected to a proposal to build a Hindu crematorium in the area. There is a large well on the plot and the groundwater will be contaminated if there are bodies decomposing just a few feet away, he said.
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