Thane Church Accused Of Illegal Burial Gets Relief From Bombay High Court

Thane Church Accused Of Illegal Burial Gets Relief From Bombay High Court

Our Lady of Mercy church does not have its own burial ground, although it had applied to the municipality for permission to use a section of its plot as a cemetery.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Wednesday, February 21, 2024, 09:00 PM IST
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Bombay High Court | PTI

Mumbai, February 21: A Thane church accused of illegally burying a nonagenarian parishioner in its land in 2019 has been given protection by the Bombay High Court against criminal prosecution by municipal authorities. Our Lady of Mercy church in Pokhran, Thane, does not have its own burial ground though it had applied to the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) for permission to use a section of its plot as a cemetery.

Frustrated by the delay in getting permissions, church members, in an act of defiance, had buried a parish member in a section of its land though it is illegal under municipal laws to conduct burials in land not marked as a cemetery. The municipal authorities filed a criminal complaint in the incident and arrested 14 church members who were later released on bail. They were accused of violating municipal and police laws.

Had No Option But To Break Law: Church

The church members filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court to quash the criminal case. They said there was no option but to break the law and get their voice heard. They said the church, which conducts an average of 10 funerals a month, shares a burial plot near Thane railway station with other churches and denominations.

“The plot is kind of crowded and though graves are reused in cities, the frequency is much more and bodies are not completely decomposed when another body is interred. This can be traumatic for families,” said Father John Almeida, parish priest.

On February 16, the Bombay High Court put a status quo on criminal proceedings against the church members. A bench of Justice Prakash Naik and NR Borkar said that the parishioners had taken permission from the church trust, the owners of the land, to use it for burials. The ad-interim relief, the court said, will be in force till the writ petition is disposed of.

Church members said that the earlier parish priest had agreed to create a cemetery in the church and applied for permissions the Thane Municipal Corporation after obtaining directions from the high court.

“In 2023, we collected more than a thousand signatures with request letter to allow cemetery space in the church land but got no answer from the present parish priest. We now plan to approach the charity commissioner along with the civic body for burial space very soon,” said Melwyn Fernandes, church activist and parishioner.

Civic Body Directed To Identify Space For Christian Cemetery:

Thomas Joseph, another member of the church, said that the court had given directions to the municipal corporation to identify space for a new Christian cemetery in Thane.

“The municipal corporation has not followed the order, so we had to file a fresh application before the Bombay High Court. There are many plots in Thane reserved for burial grounds, but most of it is encroached. We have place for a cemetery in our church. We are only asking for permission to use that land.”

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