High Court Judge Frank Seepersad has decided to take a hands-on approach to resolving a dispute over the remains of people whose graves were allegedly disturbed at the Monkey Town Public Cemetery during recent construction work.
During a virtual hearing of a lawsuit of 67-year-old Barrackpore widow Savitri Sookram, whose family’s plots were allegedly disturbed by the roadworks undertaken by the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation, Seepersad agreed to perform an official visit to the site in the hope of resolving the issue of the re-interment of the remains before the substantive is dealt with.
Seepersad made the arrangement after attorneys representing Sookram and the corporation continued to quibble over the issue when they reappeared before him yesterday.
Attorney Wayne Beharry, who led Sookram’s legal team, maintained that on a recent site visit his client had noticed bones and a casket exposed on the site. Beharry also claimed that a handle from the casket was missing.
Attorney Narad Harrikissoon denied the allegation as he pointed out that the corporation is challenging the claim that the graves were disturbed.
Harrikissoon challenged the fact that Sookram still did not have proof that she had the permission of the close relatives of her family members, buried in the plots alongside her husband, to pursue the case on their behalf.
Harrikissoon also suggested that Sookram’s plan to exhume and re-inter the remains at the same location would not be possible until the roadworks to address landslips, which led to the dispute, are completed.
As there was no consensus between the parties, Seepersad agreed to continue an injunction to preserve the site, which was sought and granted in January.
He also barred both parties and from making site visits until his next Tuesday and ordered that the corporation’s municipal police unit secure the location over the next week.
Although the corporation indicated that only one person was buried at the cemetery for the year before the incident and that there were no planned burials over the next week, Seepersad still left it open to modify the injunction to allow another family with a plot at the cemetery to bury their loved one if they pass away suddenly before his scheduled visit.
“If we cannot treat our dead with respect then we are really in a sad place as a society,” Seepersad said, as he expressed disappointment that the issue was not resolved expeditiously.
The issue arose last month, after a private contractor hired by the corporation to perform remedial works to the roadway at the entrance of the cemetery, which was affected by a landslip.
Sookram’s lawyers filed the lawsuit and when it came up for emergency hearing before Justice Robin Mohammed, the corporation undertook to not disturb the graves any further.
However, the corporation was allowed to safeguard the burial sites and roadway from any further landslides.
In defence of the lawsuit, the corporation is denying any wrongdoing as it claims that the graves were not disposed as they were out of the range of the construction work. It also contends that any possible disturbance to the graves, which it denies, was caused by the same landslip, which damaged the road providing access in and out of the cemetery.
The corporation is also being represented by Andre Sinanan, while Satesh Emrit and Indira Binda are appearing alongside Beharry for Sookram.