Choa Chu Kang cemetery to be redeveloped again

The project includes the installation of about 40,000 concrete crypts to bury the recently deceased. These allow bodies to be interred in a more compact way, saving space. The moves are aimed at lengthening the life of the cemetery, which is expected
The project includes the installation of about 40,000 concrete crypts to bury the recently deceased. These allow bodies to be interred in a more compact way, saving space. The moves are aimed at lengthening the life of the cemetery, which is expected to be kept open till 2130.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Choa Chu Kang ground to undergo its third 5-year redevelopment works

The authorities are pushing ahead with the redevelopment of the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, Singapore's only active burial ground.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has called on firms to offer consultancy services for the cemetery's third five-year redevelopment project.

This involves installing about 40,000 concrete crypts to bury the recently deceased. These concrete burial plots do not have a base, and came into use in 2007, replacing traditional earth plots. They allow bodies to be interred in a more compact way, saving space.

The project also involves installing about 5,000 crypts to bury exhumed remains, and redevelopment work relating to roads, drainage and amenities, according to the tender called by NEA in April. Consultants will also be asked to review the cemetery redevelopment masterplan.

The concrete crypts complement a burial policy introduced in 1998, which limits the burial period to 15 years. After this period, graves will be exhumed and the remains cremated or re-interred, according to religious requirements.

These measures have lengthened the life of the cemetery, which is expected to be kept open till 2130.

Under the new project, 33,684 crypts for Muslim fresh burials and 4,700 for Muslim re-interment will be built. For Chinese fresh burials, 2,847 crypts will be built. For Christian or lawn fresh burials, 1,451 will be built.

Religions such as Islam require their dead to be buried.

When The Straits Times visited the Muslim cemetery at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery in May, it found that more new crypts could be put into a given area than the older ones. Newer plots were also neater.

A 60-year-old retiree visiting the Muslim cemetery said the body of his son is buried in a concrete crypt and there are no religious issues with the crypts. Exhumation would be easier with these, too, added the man, who declined to give his name.

Madam Mastura Ahmad, 45, a cleaner, said she had no issue with the concrete crypts either. "It is okay, the block (of burial plots) is also easy to find," she said.

She and her family were visiting her father's grave on his first death anniversary. He was buried in a new crypt.

Feedback on the concrete crypts has been good, said Mr Sa'at Ahmad, manager at Muslim funeral service provider Setia Bakti, adding that these made burial easier in the rain.

"When we bring the body here after heavy rain, if there is some water, they do some adjustments and the water will drain out. This is not like in the past where the water would stay inside and the soil would be mushy."

He added: "When most of my customers' relatives from other countries come here to pay their last respects, they are impressed with our way of burying the body. It is convenient, very neat and not messy."

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said the Muslim Singaporean community "appreciated the necessity" of the new crypt system and the burial policy.

"There has been no negative feedback at all since the implementation of the (crypt) system in 2007," it said.

In cases where burial is not compulsory, cremation has become more popular here over the years, noted an NEA spokesman.

"Where burial is non-compulsory, a combination of policy, pricing mechanism and provision of adequate infrastructure has helped shift preference towards cremation (97 per cent) over burial (3 per cent)," the spokesman said.

About seven in 10 Chinese are cremated, estimates Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, adding this was a significant increase from 2010.

About 3,700 bodies were buried in Choa Chu Kang cemetery last year, of which 87 per cent were from religious groups where burial is compulsory, said NEA.

There were 19,862 deaths in Singapore last year.

NEA did not answer queries on what percentage of Choa Chu Kang Cemetery was used for burials or reinterred remains. In 2011, The Straits Times reported that about 280ha out of 318ha of the cemetery were then used for new burials or reinterred remains.

Experts suggested ways to address burial space issues should they arise.

Singapore can turn to multi-tier burial crypts, said Mr William Lau, immediate past president, Singapore Institute of Planners. He added he was confident the NEA had correctly projected there would be sufficient burial space in the Choa Chu Kang cemetery till 2130.

To address space issues, tree burials, which require less space, can also be encouraged, said Professor Lily Kong, provost and Lee Kong Chian Chair Professor of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University. With tree burials, cremated remains of the deceased are put in containers and buried around trees in a cemetery park .

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Cemetery to be redeveloped again'. Print Edition | Subscribe