LAHORE -  There was a time when people had to worry about their dead ones. But now the Punjab government is to inaugurate a new service for citizens - ‘Shehr-e-Khamoshan Model cemeteries and crematoriums’ - to make people’s loved ones last journey comfortable by providing burial essentials including coffin, kafan, muswask, kafoor, Arq-e-Ghulab, soap under one roof.

Under Punjab Shehr-e-Khamoshan Authority, the Rs155 million project will revamp the concept of a cemetery by providing services that ensure the sanctity of death and the dignity of the deceased. It will be establishing and maintaining cemeteries and crematoriums to facilitate all citizens irrespective of any religious, socio-economic or caste-wise distinctions.

The initiative of 900-Kanal Shehr-e-Khamoshan in Lahore was conceptualised in 2015 to address the lack of proper burial facilities in Punjab. The existing graveyards have extremely poor conditions with low maintenance and presence of little space for graves.

Grieving citizens are further distressed by the burial and funeral process, given the exploitation and corruption adopted by the workforce managing the existing graveyards across Punjab.

“The Shehr-e-Khamoshan Model Cemeteries and Crematoriums initiative is to spread across Punjab with the onset of the Lahore Graveyard at Kacha Road, Kahna. The Shehr-e-Khamoshan initiative is the Punjab Government’s promise to reform cemeteries for times to come for complete citizen facilitation,” Salman Sufi, Director General, Strategic Reforms Unit (Chief Minister’s Office), told The Nation on Tuesday.

Sufi said it is not just for the Muslims as well as for non-Muslim communities as Shehr-e-Khamoshan Authority will ensure the delivery of services including prayer services, bath, mortuary, hearse services as well as services of cremation and burial services for non-Muslim communities in separate cemeteries.

He added that the first Shehr-e-Khamoshan Model Graveyard at Mouza Rakh, Cheddu Kahna is set to be operational in June 2017.

With an area measuring 89 kanals, the Lahore Graveyard will have grave space for around 8000 graves. Citizens are now able to avail complete burial and funeral facilities by calling on number 0303-8438951.

Fatima Khan, Analyst Strategic Reforms Unit, CM Office, said a number of citizens have started calling on the number and asked for information about the burial services. “Once the Shehr-e-Khamoshan would be operational it will start facilitating the people. Beyond the Lahore project, Shehr-e-Khamoshan Model Graveyards are under construction in Sargodha, Multan and Faisalabad and will be operational this year. ” she added.

The Authority will be chaired by Adviser to the Chief Minister Punjab Khawaja Ahmed Hassan, SRU DG Salman Sufi. Alongside establishing its own Shehr-e-Khamoshan Model Graveyards, the Authority will also be able to establish graveyards on the model of Shehr-e-Khamoshan on the request of the local government and philanthropists.

Shehr-e-Khamoshan would be providing the hearse service for the deceased with appropriate air-conditioning as per the practice in the western countries. Other facilities that would be providing coach services to transport the bereaved families, 30-body mortuary to preserve the bodies of the deceased, separate female and male Ghusal or bathing facilities inside the graveyard shall be provided a Janazgah or funeral prayer section to accommodate congregation.

Salman Sufi said Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) shall be followed in order to prevent overcrowding ground-levelled graves shall be built with no structures on top with gravestones of a standard uniform size trained staff to carry out all processes pertaining to the graveyards.

“In order to address the bureaucratic hurdles in place in the current set-up of establishing graveyards, the Authority will be a corporate body with its own one-line budget specialised to establish, maintain and monitor Model Cemeteries and Crematoriums across Punjab,” Sufi said.

Sufi was of the view that SRU has worked in collaboration with the Local Government & Community Development Department and the Social Welfare & Bait-ul-Maal Department in order to introduce legislations on crucial issues. “There is a lack of inclusive and sacred burial spaces, facilitation of grieving familiesso we introduced the bill and approved it by the Punjab Assembly,” he added.

The Shehr-e-Khamoshan Authority was established to further ensure the establishment of Model Cemeteries and Crematoriums across Punjab, SRU has drafted and overseen the passage of the Shehr-e-Khamoshan Authority Act.

The Chief Minister’s Strategic Reform Unit’s Punjab Shehr-e-Khamoshan Authority Bill 2017 and the Punjab Women Protection Bill 2017 were passed by Punjab Assembly session on the 24th of May 2017.

The Punjab Shehr-e-Khamoshan Authority Bill 2017 was promulgated on the 11th of April 2017 by the Governor Punjab. The Bill was then approved by the Standing Committee on Local Government and Community Development on the 4th of May 2017.

Similar projects have been already run by Edhi Foundation and in Australia, United Kingdom and United States.