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High demand raises burial costs
Space is at a premium for burying the dead in Port-of-Spain. Chronic overcrowding and the high demand far exceeding supply are responsible for fuelling the escalating prices for burial plots in the capital’s cemeteries. Making the announcement was Clark & Battoo Ltd Funeral Service managing director, Shaun Jodhan, who acts as an intermediary between families who want to buy and sell funeral plots.
“Cemetery plots are quite costly today because the demand for them is much greater than the supply,” Jodhan said at his Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain, office. “Lapeyrouse Cemetery, Woodbrook Cemetery, and Western Cemetery in St James, are all filled. “Families come here and they have plots to sell and it’s easier to come through us than looking around for somebody who wants to sell one and according to the location, I’ll offer them a price,” he said.
He said people who needed the money or fulfill their relatives’ wishes that they be cremated were some of the reasons given for putting their family plots on the market. Jodhan said graves could start from anywhere between $10,000 to $25,000 and were listed in newspapers’ classified ads.
He said the price of a plot depended on the location of the grave, especially in a historic cemetery such as Lapeyrouse. Also, a grave near the road is much more expensive than one deep in the interior of the cemetery. He revealed that the price of an allotment in Port-of-Spain was $23 during the 1940s and 50s.
Jodhan also said the present shortage of plots is compounded by the fact that no new cemeteries were being constructed along with urban sprawl, including Diego Martin, Diamond Vale, Petit Valley, Pt Cumana, Carenage and Cocorite. He also attributed a population explosion over more than 50 years ago as a contributory factor for the present hike in the prices of burial plots in Port-of-Spain.
Jodhan said there was the perception that Clark & Battoo only catered to a high-end clientele because of their reputation of providing professional services. He said, however, he wanted to educate the public that they catered to all the major religious denominations—Hindu, Muslim and Christian. A basic Hindu or Muslim funeral package costs $4,000 while a Christian funeral package starts at $6,500.
Jodhan said the funeral industry is seen as a viable growth industry and several leading banks and lending houses now offer funeral loans. RBC Royal Bank has a Funeral Comfort Plan, Scotia has Flexible Pre-Arranged Funeral Trusts, and while Republic Bank does not have a funeral loan, it facilitates easier access to relatives of the deceased’s account to defer funeral costs.
Jodhan said the powers that be must find a solution to address the scarcity of burial space and that lands had to be made available for new cemeteries. Lapeyrouse Cemetery is administered by the Port-of-Spain City Corporation. When asked to comment on the situation, Port-of-Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing said people who were willing to pay as much as $30,000 for a plot in Lapeyrouse were involved in a private arrangement and that had nothing to do with the city corporation.
“This has happened to people who have benefited or who have the privilege of being responsible for a plot and have been selling their inheritances at exorbitant fees,” Lee Sing said. “Because of the demand and supply, there are people and funeral parlours who are actually engaging in this type of activity, the city corporation frowns on this type of activity and is doing its damnedest to discourage it,” Lee Sing said.
In contrast, members of the public can be buried at the San Juan Public Cemetery for $70 a plot and the Tunapuna Streatham Lodge Cemetery which charges $200. While many of the plots at Lapeyrouse are privately owned, graves can be reused after seven years.
Chairman of the San Juan /Laventille Regional Corporation, Nafeesa Mohammed acknowledged the chronic overcrowding in the cemeteries in her jurisdiction. She said La Fillette Public Cemetery and San Juan Public Cemetery were open, while Morvant Mountain View Public Cemetery and St Ann’s Public Cemetery remain closed.
“The requirement has been that a grave should not be opened before seven years, but the situation is quite acute right now,” Mohammed said. “I have a sense that the policy is not being strictly complied with, given the need for more space.” She said members of the Muslim community, with very significant numbers in the San Juan area, were not exempt from the overcrowding problem even with two Muslim cemeteries—El Socorro Muslim Cemetery and San Juan Muslim Cemetery.
She said members of the Hindu community had a Hindu cemetery on Boundary Road, San Juan. Mohammed said the regional corporation was holding talks concerning establishing a crematorium and another burial ground, but finding space and the correct location were posing challenges.
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