All of Karachi’s cemeteries have been “filled” at least three times and it has been 28 years since one was established in 1991 in Mawach Goth.
“Strong mafias are operating the graveyards and selling graves at their own rates,” said Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar.
The KMC’s official rate for a grave in Karachi is Rs8500 but, according to a gorkhan or undertaker, Ghulam Muhammad who has been at Yasinabad graveyard for 35 years, the “mafia” sets its own rates. And mafias work at all cemeteries. “The cemetery mafias charge Rs12,000 to Rs15,000 per grave,” he said, adding that most people did not know the official rates.
The mafia takes advantage of the situation and pressures the family to pay more by saying that no space is left.
The city has an estimated population of 20 million people but only 180 registered graveyards, and that too for Muslims. Of these, seven lie within cantonment boards. Nearly 95% of the burial sites are, however, running out space.
“Not a single penny has been allocated for graveyards by the Sindh government in the last 10 years,” said Akhtar, who holds the Sindh government responsible. He says the government is not ready to work for the “living” so how could one expect it to work for the “dead.”
Akhtar claims he has written several letters to the Sindh chief minister and Rangers several times to take action against the graveyard mafia. For his part, the Inspector-General for Registration at the Land Utilization Department of the Board of Revenue, Syed Ahmed Ali Shah Jillani, denied they were not cooperating when it came to allocating land for cemeteries. He maintained that they were following the proper mechanism after receiving the KMC request for land. It was the district administration in these areas that were responsible for drawing up feasibility plans.
Deputy Commissioner East Ahmed Ali Siddiqui confirmed that his office has received several requests for graveyard space from KMC. But he said that the process of allocating land from the BoR was slightly lengthy as a survey of the earmarked lands was mandatory. It had to be done by assistant commissioners of the area along with a KMC team.
According to KMC Graveyards Director Iqbal Pervez, they have an initial plan to create land for three graveyards in Surjani Town, Taiser Town and Gadap Town. If they materialise, the problem would be resolved for at least 50 years. The plan includes 12 acres in Surjani Town, 64.66 acres in Taiser Town and 25 acres in Gadap Town.
“It is difficult to get land from the Board of Revenue for graveyards,” said Pervez, adding that 980 acres of vacant land is available on the city’s outskirts. He wagered that people would be forced to go to far-flung areas for burials in the near future.
Burials are banned in six graveyards located in Model Colony, Paposh Nagar, Yasinabad, Colony Gate, Korangi No 6 and Essa Nagri. They have run out of space. Gorkhan Ghulam Muhammad explained that the mafia creates space in the closed graveyards by flattening graves which have not been visited for several years. They first heap bushes and debris on the grave and then when no one notices the change they flatten it.
This is how Zeeshan Faraz found out that his father’s grave had vanished just after four years after his death. “My father died in May 2012 and we buried him in the Essa Nagri graveyard located at the center of the city, few miles away from Hasan Square,” he said. “But his grave was not there in 2016.” Faraz used to visit his father’s grave every three to four months.
He said he found another grave with a different name at the exact place of his father’s grave and no one from the staff was ready to tell him what had happened.