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RAWALPINDI, May 29: The Rawal Town Municipal Administration (RTMA) has sought Rs36.8 million from the Punjab government to construct boundary walls around graveyards in the city to avoid encroachment.

An official told Dawn on Tuesday that the provincial government had taken serious notice of the increasing incidents of land grabbing in graveyards and directed the RTMA to construct the boundary walls.

He said about two months back, some people tried to grab the land at city’s oldest Ratta graveyard and forced the civic body to remove the illegal structures being constructed there. He said some people also complained that gravestones were being stolen as there was no system of security.

The local legislators belonging to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took up the matter with the chief minister who sought a report on the status of the graveyards. The RTMA conducted a survey and found that over 23 graveyards in the city had no boundary walls and become safe havens for drug addicts.

The RTMA estimated the cost and sought Rs36.8 million for the construction of the boundary walls and gates in the graveyards.

On the other hand, the residents of the city said space at more than 37 graveyards was decreasing due to encroachments.

All main graveyards like Ratta Amral, Pirwadhai, Eidgah, Shan Diyan Talian, Kuri Road, Dhoke Khaba, Dhoke Illahi Buksh, Dhoke Kashmirian, Chah Sultan and Malikan Da Kabristan have filled and are short of land.

The worst effected is one of the oldest graveyards of Rawalpindi - Dhoke Ratta graveyard - which faces shortage of space. The management committee of the graveyard filled the banks of a Nullah passing through the area but during the monsoon floodwater destroyed the graves.

“More than seven graves, including that of my father, vanished from the place during the last monsoon when the nullah was flooded with rainwater, “said Mohammad Amjad. He said his father Mohammad Deen died two years back and was buried in the graveyard extension but due to ill-planned extension, rainwater flooded the area and destroyed the graves.

The Pirwadhai graveyard is accommodating new arrivals as the management has extended the limits of the graveyard along the banks of a nullah. People buried the remains of their loved ones there as they had no other option.

“I constructed the grave of my father twice after its marble slaps were stolen. When I inquired from the gravedigger, he said it was the work of drug addicts,” said Naveed Jamal, a resident of Pirwadhai.

The City District Government Rawalpindi and Rawal Town Municipal Administration have failed to properly manage the 1,000 kanals of land in Rakh Dhamial, about 20 kilometres from the city. The land was allocated for the graveyard during the second tenure of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1996.

During the last four years, the CDGR and PML-N local MNAs tried to construct Jinnah Abadis and Ashiana Housing Schemes at the graveyard land but had to defer their plans after receiving resentments from the local residents.

MNA Malik Shakeel Awan told Dawn that the PML-N-led Punjab government was working seriously to resolve the issue of graveyards. “The boundary walls are being constructed and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has allocated 1,000 kanals at Rakh Dhamial,” he said.

He said the provincial government would also provide CNG bus to transport bodies to Rakh Dhamial. When remained that the land at Rakh Dhamial had been allocated for the graveyard by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the MNA insisted that it was Shahbaz Sharif who had done it.

Rawal Town Administrator Saif Anwar Jappa said there was acute shortage of graveyards in the city. “There is an urgent need for acquiring land for new graveyards as the existing ones would be full in the next one or two years,” he said.

When asked why RTMA had failed to develop the graveyard in Rakh Dhamial since 1996, he said nobody was willing to bury their loved ones outside the city.