High Court Judge Frank Seepersad will Thursday give his judgement in a lawsuit brought by members of a family from Barrackpore, who are claiming that their relatives’ graves were destroyed during the construction of a retaining wall at the Monkey Town Public Cemetery, earlier this year.
Justice Seepersad reserved his decision in the case brought by widow Savitri Sookram and her brother-in-law Bachan Ramdhan against the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation after completing a virtual trial yesterday afternoon.
Testifying yesterday, Sookram and her son-in-law Videsha Siew Sankar claimed that in January they learned that the family’s plot had been disturbed while a contractor hired by the corporation was doing remedial works on a road in the cemetery that was damaged by a landslip.
They claimed that after stopping the excavation works, Sankar’s 12-year-old son found what appeared to be bone fragments and the remnants of a casket in the excavated area.
The tombstones of Sookram’s husband Edwin, who was buried in the plot in 2018, and other relatives were missing.
While being cross-examined by the corporation’s lawyer Narad Harrikissoon, Sookram and Sankar admitted that the bones should have been sent for DNA testing to prove that the bones belonged to their relatives.
However, Sankar claimed that the corporation should have facilitated such testing as it had disturbed the graves.
Justice Seepersad interrupted the questioning to ask whether the corporation had changed its defence that the construction work did not damage any graves in the cemetery and that the alleged damage was caused by the landslip. Harrikissoon said no.
Sookram did maintain the items that were recovered by her grandson -and when the family were granted permission to exhume the remains and reintern them - were from her husband’s burial as she recognised the handle of his casket.
“It had to be because they dug up all the graves,” she said.
Sookram also admitted that while she claimed that she had to visit a doctor and received medication due to the mental distress caused by the incident, she did not attach medical records or receipts to the lawsuit.
Also testifying yesterday was gravedigger Siewdial Ramnarine, who dug the grave for Sookram’s husband and was hired to help exhume the remains.
Ramnarine claimed that he only found bone fragments after digging between six and eight feet at the site.
“There was no coffin to be found,” Ramnarine said.
In his evidence, Ramdhan, whose wife was buried in the plot in 2007, testified that he was aware that the corporation planned to do work near the plot due to a landslip but claimed that he believed that it would not have interfered with the family’s plot.
In his evidence, cemetery keeper Adrian Gopaul, who testified on behalf of the corporation, admitted that graves were disturbed in the excavation and that the contractor did not consult with him.
Quizzed over his claims that Ramnarine did not dig as deep as claimed when exhuming the bodies, Gopaul claimed that they would not have to dig as deep as claimed as the excavation work would have removed some layers off the graves.
Asked whether he had a plan or map of the graves and plots in the cemetery, Gopaul said no and claimed that he relied on his record-keeping, which was passed down by his deceased stepmother, who performed the job before her death.
The corporation was also represented by Andre Sinanan, while Satesh Emrit and Indira Binda represented the family.