Pointing to the irony of fate, noted poet Qumaar Barabankvi wrote: ‘Do gaz zameen mil hii gayi mujh gareeb ko, Marne ke baad main bhi zamindar ho gaya’. The loose translation turns out as, “Two square yards of land at last this pauper has found, It is after my death that I too have become a landlord.”

The couplet is a dark commentary of how the landless become landlords, but, only when they are buried in the dank grave. But while this may have been true many years ago, the grave reality is quite different now. It appears that very soon, the two square yards of land which Barabankvi, and also Bahadur Shah Zafar spoke of, will not be available unless things change fast.

There is undoubtedly shrinkage of grave space in the city. This has happened for a number of reasons. While some of these reasons can be controlled with concerted efforts, others not so much. One of the main factors leading to this stunting of grave space is the fact that there is little or no space left for expansion. The problem can soon turn acute. Most of the major graveyards, usually associated with a dargah or a takia, were on the outskirts but are now, within the city limits. The spatial expansion of urban living spaces on account of an increased population has led to this.

Little wonder that burial grounds like the Shiite Daira Mir Momin, in the heart of Old City, among a couple of other Sunni institutions, in certain cases, have begun using the same grave to bury more than just one body. Instead of digging up a fresh grave, the term mutawallis (managers) of these graveyards now, use is “reopening”.

As the term suggests, the grave is opened up and reused for the recently deceased. A time period of a few years has been prescribed so as to allow the existing body to fully decompose. The reason for this multilayered burial is the fact that “one body, one grave” is fast becoming a luxury. And if no solution is found, “layering” of bodies will soon be commonplace.

The other factor is the skyrocketing of grave space prices. Those in the know point out that the charges for a six feet by three feet grave range from a few thousand to as much as a staggering Rs 1.5 lakh – a sum of money, most of which is pocketed by the mutawalli. In fact, in the interest of the general public, a petition was filed at the high court of undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2012 with a prayer to give an appropriate order on the ‘atrocious’ charges. However, the practice by a few unscrupulous mutawallis continues on account of weak wakf laws and the lack of monitoring.

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Interestingly, on account of lack of grave space within the city, the concept of the ‘haadwaad’, a burial ground exclusively for members of a family, is reemerging after decades. There have been around half a dozen instances in the recent past when Muslim families of considerable social standing have bought small plots of land both inside and outside the city, which will soon serve as their final resting place.

It appears that there are broadly three options left for the community. One: Accept the multi-level approach. Two: Move to graveyards outside the city. Three: Buy a plot of land which will serve as a ‘haadwaad’. The first option is likely to encounter stiff resistance on account of theological and cultural reasons. It is a practice followed in Arab countries where, usually, the grave is unmarked and with no epitaph. The haadwaad may not be feasible as not all can afford it. The common man is unlikely to raise enough funds to buy a plot of land. A burial space outside the city seems a plausible solution. But this requires the government’s will, intervention and political lobbying.

‘Grave’ situation for city cemeteries: With no space left for graveyards in the city, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has asked the Rangareddy district administration to earmark land for graveyards and hand it over to the civic body.

The scarcity of graveyards and burial grounds is being felt in the core of the city and is likely to impact surrounding circles too in the near future. Already, there are allegations against some graveyard committees that they have been selling land to relatives of those dead departed souls

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for constructing graves by charging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000. Some graveyard committees, which belong to private persons, were even collecting Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000 for allowing cremation.

GHMC officials estimate that they would require as many as 1,000 graveyards (for all religions) in the surrounding areas (erstwhile Huda) of the city taking present and future population growth into consideration. As of now, only 291 graveyards exist in the adjoining areas of the city.

“The Rangareddy district collector has directed tehsildars to identify suitable land for graveyards immediately and these parcels of land would be handed over to the municipal corporation for maintenance,” Rangareddy district law officer Dara Venugopal said.

Official sources said there were 699 graveyards, 90% below five acres, in the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad area and 291 in the surrounding municipal circles. Of them, 387 belong to private persons (private land) and were being managed by local committees.

The Ranga Reddy district administration has identified about 28 places in Kapra, Ahmedguda, Nadargul, Chowdariguda (Shamshabad), Nuthankal (Medchal), Kokapet, Hydershahkote, Gundla Pochampally, Dundigal, Gopanpally, Malkaram (Shamshabad), Keesara, Bachupally and Kongarakalan (Ibrahimpatnam) in the past two years. Some identified places have been given to the GHMC, while some were handed over to gram panchayats of respective areas for maintenance.

On record, 230 graveyards are under GHMC as many of them (on government land) have not been transferred to the corporation, while some were caught in legal wrangles. Interestingly, there are no proper records on graveyard land like which religious faith was using the graveyard, extent of land and other details.

Many graveyards do not have minimum facilities like bathrooms, borewells and street lighting. As a result of which, people are forced to go to major graveyards like Punjagutta, Amberpet and Bansilalpet for cremations, which have some facilities.

“People come from Gachibowli and Madhapur area to Punjagutta for the performing last rites of their relatives as it has some facilities,” Punjagutta Hindu Graveyard Committee president Paladugu Anil Kumar said.

A couple of years ago, the GHMC called for expression of interest from voluntary organisations, non-governmental organisations, individuals and philanthropists to provide basic facilities at the graveyards under Fund Your City programme. However, there was no response from agencies and individuals. Then, the corporation spiked the programme as construction of compound walls, borewells, street lighting and other facilities involve huge expenditure.

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“I have given 32 representations on condition of graveyards and requested the officials to take up maintenance of these sites in the last couple of years, but the engineering wing failed to execute it,” TDP floor leader in GHMC Singireddy Srinivas Reddy said.

According to estimates, GHMC needs as many as 1,000 graveyards for all religions in the surrounding areas (erstwhile Huda) in the future.

As of now, there are 699 graveyards (90% below five acres) in the erstwhile MCH area and 291 in the surrounding municipal circles. Of them, 387 belong to private persons.

Due to lack of basic facilities at many graveyards, people are forced to go to major graveyards like Punjagutta, Amberpet and Bansilalpet for creations.

Muslim burial grounds encroached in Hyderabad: Committees who manage graveyards don’t allow people from other localities to bury their dead

Muslims might soon have to bury their dead in their own houses due to shortage of land, social activists say and demanded that the Wakf Board or some other government body should look into this issue.

“While shortage of land is a problem, another one is encroachment of graveyards for the construction of houses and commercial complexes,” said S.Q. Masood, a social activist from city.

Apart from this, committees who manage graveyards don’t allow people from other localities to bury their dead. This has led to several disputes, he said.

Due to scarcity, the price of land for burial has shot up. It takes anywhere between Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 to bury the dead now. Encroachers and graves have been co-existing at several places and at some places even colonies have been built.

Recently, a GHMC contractor was accused of grabbing graveyard land attached to Masjid-e-Subhani in Panjagutta and levelling was stopped after stiff resistance.

Portions of Fateh Darwaza Graveyard, the Aghapura graveyard and Biryani Shah-Tekri have also been encroached upon. #KhabarLive