Unclaimed cremated remains from parts of the Bukit Brown and Seh Ong cemeteries will be scattered at sea on April 26 this year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) wrote in a series of final notices posted on national broadsheets.
As of 12 January, remains from about 3,400 out of 4,700 graves – exhumed from both cemeteries between January and December 2014 to make way for the construction of Lornie Highway – have not been claimed, said an LTA spokesman on Wednesday (17 January) in response to queries by Yahoo News Singapore.
These remains were not claimed by descendants or next-of-kin at the time of exhumation and during the storage period of three years, according to the notice published last Friday in The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.
Those who wish to claim the cremated remains of their ancestors have been asked to submit their claims by 12 April. They can contact the LTA at 63962500 or firstname.lastname@example.org for details on the submission of claims.
The LTA said it will arrange for a brief religious ceremony to offer prayers before scattering the ashes at sea.
Groups and individuals have called for alternative measures, such as building a memorial that houses the unclaimed cremated remains.
Chua Ai Lin, vice president of non-profit Singapore Heritage Society, called the suggestion “timely”, and one that the group, together with members of the public and the Bukit Brown community, had proposed “a few years back”.
As “some of the earliest graves exhumed to make way for the highway date back to as early as the 1830s, less than 20 years after the founding of Singapore by Raffles”, a memorial would allow “current and future generations to pay their respects and remember the contributions of what remains of the earliest pioneer generation”, explained Chua.
A memorial would play a big role in allowing the closure of a “chapter in (one’s) family history”, said Catherine Lim, a volunteer with All Things Bukit Brown, a community group that conducts regular guided walks for the public in the Bukit Brown area.
“The possibility that descendants may still come forth should not be discounted,” added Lim.
Dr Terence Heng, lecturer in sociology at the University of Liverpool, who was part of a research team that documented the Bukit Brown cemetery, noted that building a memorial “would be an excellent gesture on the part of LTA”.
“The memorial for Bukit Brown could be simple, placed near the recently relocated gates, listing the individuals who had ‘given up’ their space for the living,” he added.
Plagued by delays
The construction of Lornie Highway, which was announced in September 2011, was delayed twice due to various reasons, including financial difficulties faced by its main contractor and a public exhumation exercise that completed a year later than projected.
First slated to be completed by 2016, and then end-2017, the development of the dual four-lane road also faced strong objections from heritage groups and members of the public.
Set to connect MacRitchie Viaduct to Adam Flyover, it affected parts of the Bukit Brown and Seh Ong cemeteries, which had been closed off to burial since the early 1970s and were areas deemed to have rich heritage value.
Lornie Highway will now be progressively opened from the third quarter of this year, starting with the southbound highway towards Adam Flyover, said the LTA in a press release issued in November last year.
The northbound highway towards MacRitchie Viaduct will open in the first quarter of 2019.
The road is expected to alleviate congestion along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway during peak hours.
Back in 2011, LTA said that “traffic demand along Lornie Road is expected to increase between 20 per cent and 30 per cent by 2020 and well beyond what the current Lornie Road will be able to handle”.