18,000 graves will be first to be exhumed
In line with 15-year limit, older graves at Choa Chu Kang to be cleared from Nov 1 next yearBy Sharmilpal Kaur
ABOUT 18,000 graves in Choa Chu Kang Cemetery will be the first batch to be exhumed under a government policy that limits the age of graves to no more than 15 years.
These graves, of Christians and Hindus buried between 1946 and 1961, will be exhumed individually from Nov 1 next year. The remains will be cremated and the ashes put in state columbaria.
Ashes from unclaimed graves will be kept for three years - to give relatives enough time to claim them and perform their own rites - before they are scattered at sea.
The process is expected to take three years. Two other three-year exhumation exercises will follow, to clear cemetery graves that are more than 15 years old.
This was announced at a media briefing yesterday by the National Environment Agency's Director-General (Public Health), Mr Wang Nan Chee.
He said it would all be done in 'a very organised way', and in three-year phases so as to minimise anxiety on the part of relatives.
Without the 15-year policy, first announced in 1998, Singapore will eventually run out of graveyard space.
The 280-ha Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, for one, would be full by 2013. But with the policy in place, the cemetery can function for at least another 60 years.
Those required by religion to bury their dead will have the exhumed remains re-buried in smaller plots after 15 years.
Each year, about 16,000 people die in Singapore. About 4,000 are Muslims, Parsis, Jews or Baha'is, whose religions require burial instead of cremation.
But since 1998, more people - about 1,000 a year more - have been opting for cremation instead of burial. Now, 91 per cent of those not compelled to bury their dead are choosing cremation, compared to about 83 per cent in 1998.
The rest still prefer burial, even though that costs more. Cremation costs $100 and a compulsory burial costs $315. More is charged for a non-compulsory one - $940.
All major religious groups, including the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, support the 15-year policy.
Other cities of the world also have measures for re-using cemetery graves. Taipei and Hongkong re-use grave plots after seven years and six years respectively, while in Cairo, Istanbul and Mecca, graves are re-used after between 40 days and five years.
The NEA will pay for the exhumation, cremation and placing of ashes in a state columbarium, which will cost more than $14 million.
Relatives need to pay only if they choose to get their own contractors to exhume the grave, or if they wish to place the remains in a private columbarium.
The agency will take out newspaper advertisements and distribute pamphlets, to alert relatives of the dead. To contact the NEA, e-mail to nea_cckexhumation@ nea.gov.sg, or telephone 6795-5511.
©Copyright 2003, The Straits Times (Singapore)
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