News

Govt mulls Iranaitheevu alternatives 

  • Original island not ruled out 

  • Reconsidering due to protests/opposition 

  • Burials to commence ASAP: General 

 By Pamodi Waravita and Hiranyada Dewasiri 

 

As opposition mounts from the side of the local community living in the Iranaitheevu Island as well as Tamil and Muslim politicians against the island being chosen for the burial of Covid-19 deceased, The Morning learnt that other locations are being considered, although burials in Iranaitheevu have not been ruled out. 

Speaking to The Morning yesterday (4), Head of the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of the Covid-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), General Shavendra Silva said that while Iranaitheevu is still an option for burial, other locations are also being considered. 

“We are considering other locations for the burial of Covid-19 victims. However, Iranaitheevu is still an option.” 

Further, when queried as to when burials are to commence, General Silva said that burials will commence “as soon as possible”. Earlier this week, General Silva told us that once the guidelines are finalised, the implementation of the decision would be possible within 48 hours. 

Following the Gazette issued by the Minister of Health last week ending the Government’s controversial, almost year-long mandatory cremation policy concerning Covid-19 victims, the Director General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena issued a list of guidelines on 3 March to be followed when handling and burying the bodies of Covid-19 victims. The guidelines thus issued named the island of Iranaitheevu located in the Gulf of Mannar as a site of burial for Covid-19 victims. 

A request to both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to reconsider the decision to bury the Covid-19 deceased in the Iranaitheevu Island was made by Minister of Fisheries and Kilinochchi District Coordinating Chairman Douglas Devananda on 3 March. The Minister had communicated that the civilians in Iranaitheevu island are against the island being used as a burial ground for those who succumb to Covid-19. 

An open appeal made by the residents of the Iranaitheevu island village called upon the Government to respect those who die from Covid-19 and to give them dignity in death by not transporting them from place to place. The letter further stated that since the livelihoods of the people in the island are mainly cultivation and cattle breeding, the richness of the soil is extremely important for the islanders. The letter also said that since it takes one-and-a-half hours for a boat to reach the Island from the mainland, it is impractical to consider the island for burial. 

Speaking to us on the matter, Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) Parliamentarian President’s Counsel M. A. Sumanthiran said that since there is no scientific evidence stating that the burial of Covid-19 victims leads to groundwater contamination, any cemetery in the country could be used for burial. He claimed that this latest move is an attempt by the Government to pit two minority communities against each other. 

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader and MP Rauff Hakeem said that the Kuppiyawatta burial ground has been identified as safe for burial by Prof. Jennifer Perera’s expert committee on the matter and that the “banishment” of the Muslim community’s Covid-19 dead to an island does not make sense.