IN ST JOSEPH, two cemeteries have been filled to capacity and closed, according to Paul Leacock, chairman of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation. The remaining cemeteries in the district, he warned, are on the verge of following suit.
Part of the problem may stem from issues with oversight, if Leacock’s assertion that a recent burial at a private cemetery on Arima Old Road happened without the sanction of the regional corporation. It shouldn’t be possible to bury a body on a plot with no reference to the State’s oversight bodies responsible for recording and participating in that process.
Clearly there is a need for more land to handle burials in St Joseph, a heavily urbanised neighbourhood, and it’s uncertain where it’s going to be found. Graves can be reused with certain restrictions. The first burial on a plot is recommended to go to nine feet, soil and obstacles allowing, which allows a second internment at six feet.
A shortage of burial spaces is not unique to St Joseph. In 2006, facing high demand for space at a rate of two burials per day, the San Juan Public Cemetery shortened the time that graves must remain closed from seven to five years.
High demand and dwindling supply was signalled as early as July 2012 when funeral professionals expressed concern about the lack of burial sites being allocated to match the urban sprawl in Port of Spain, particularly to the west of the city centre.
The resale of burial plots was officially frowned on by then PoS City Corporation mayor Louis Lee Sing who said the city was doing as much as it could to discourage the resale of burial plots, some selling six years ago for as much as $30,000. In 2012, a plot in the San Juan Public Cemetery cost $70 and one at Tunapuna’s Streatham Lodge Cemetery cost $200. In the 1940s a grave allotment in Port of Spain cost $23.
This procedure for managing burial sites requires proper records to be kept of the dates of internment and the depths of graves to ensure that it’s possible for families owning plots to reuse their allotments. Simply closing a cemetery and declaring it full isn’t something that normally happens and suggests an extreme confluence of circumstances that demands investigation and informed resolution.
Belgroves introduced buried crypts at Orange Grove Memorial Gardens, which stacks four caskets in a purpose-built underground chamber. There clearly needs to be more innovative thinking institutionally about cemetery management in TT, both in terms of resources and technologies, if we are to move beyond our current dilemma of limitations.