THE story goes that there once was a man who was so depraved that he would steal from the dead their shroud, digging up the newly buried and selling the cloth wrapped around them for whatever little it fetched in the market of a different town. They say fact is stranger than fiction and, as if to prove the point, it is now learnt that entire graves are being sold after evacuation of their occupants at the Nariyalwadi Kabrastan on Saint Sawata Marg in Byculla (East).
The graveyard has always been in controversy because of allegations of corruption by its trustees. Now, 65-year-old Mehmood Parvez Ansari, who is a retired principal and resident of Byculla (East), has complained (copy with ABI) to several authorities about irregularities and corruption in Nariyalwadi Kabrastan.
According to the complaints, the Nariyalwadi Kabrastan is being looked after by a private management. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Waqf Board only partly look into the affairs of the graveyard. The Kabrastan came about in 1937 and can hold 4,000 graves. One Salim Yusuf Khan (55) is Chairman and his cousin Abdul Rahim and Kasam Thakur are trustee members.
On average 15 bodies per day are brought here from the city. The police send another 10 or more bodies of unknown deceased every month. As the rules go, the trustees charge between Rs 800 and Rs 3,200, including donation. This figure reaches Rs 20,000 to Rs 80,000 on Friday (Jumma).
“These trustees illegally pocket Rs 5 lakh to Rs 7 lakh per month of public and donation money,” said Mehmood Ansari.
Ansari said the trustees have adopted a shameful way of making money: if anyone wants to bury their parents in a grave the trustees remove recently buried bodies and sell the spot to those in need of one. They are said to charge Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh for it, a sum that goes straight into the trustee members’ pockets and for which receipts are never issued. This trick to make money began in 2010 and it is said that trustee members have sold more than 300 graves till date in this manner.
Wood (varga) scam
The trustees also have another idea to make money. As per rule, the BMC is paid Rs 900 per body for wood (called Varga) that is used in making a grave (box). There is also a religious rule that only 17, 19 or 21 wood pieces or Varga will be used for one body, but trustees charge for 29-30 Vargas. BMC supplies wood every six months and the trustees earn more than Rs 3 lakh from the Varga. The contractor also supplies Varga reducing VAT and tax.
“The trustees are also making money from Varga. This is very shameful,” said Ansari.
Ansari complained to the BMC health department, but nothing happened. Sources said BMC officials were aware of the scam but had a cut in it. The trust is never audited by the Charity Commissioner.
Defending himself Salim Khan said, “I am aware of all complaints against me. I have replied to Byculla and Worli police stations. Mohammed Parvez Ansari is an RTI activist. He wants to be a trustee. He has double standards. One day he seeks to settle the matter and the other day he submits an RTI query against the trust. He has published a few articles against me in newspapers in the past. I don’t care about the newspaper articles. Once the matter is settled we will see about him. We will teach him a lesson. And Varga issue is not related to us, it is related to the BMC.”