Defiant stand on funeral niches

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am


Funeral niche owners at a Tuen Mun monastery have been told that their ancestors' ashes might not have to be moved - even though the government has ordered the niche structures demolished and the operators have failed in a court challenge against the order.

Most of the 4,900 niches at the Gig Lok Monastery - about 1,400 of them occupied - are in structures erected on government land, and the Lands Department ordered earlier this year that they be demolished by October 10. An application for a judicial review was rejected by the Court of First Instance on Thursday.

Dozens of niche owners went to the monastery yesterday and asked staff what would happen when the structures were demolished.

They were told their niches would not be demolished and if they were, the urns could be moved to nearby Ching Leung Nunnery, although the department does not have it listed as a legal columbarium. The monastery is listed as an illegal columbarium.

'They said ours wouldn't be demolished,' one owner, Lee Lap-shui, said. 'And even if the urns had to be moved, they would be moved to a building nearby in a few years.'

Lee's friend, So Mui-ying, who went to the monastery with him, said she had bought a niche in an underground hall for her parents three years ago for HK$40,000.

'Where can I place the ashes?' she asked. 'When my mum died three years ago, I brought my dad's ashes from Fujian so they could be in the same niche.'

Residents of Parkland Villas, metres away from the monastery, said they were happy about the rejection of the monastery's case and hoped that the Lands Department would take action soon, as the illegal columbarium was a nuisance.

'It keeps a very bright light on around the clock. The smoke from burning offerings and incense is posing risks to our health, and the noise from ceremonies is annoying,' Siu Sau-ping said.

She was also unhappy about heavy traffic during two grave-sweeping festivals and paper ashes being blown into the villas' pool.

'It's polluting the pool. We can actually swallow paper ashes while swimming,' Siu said.

District councillor Ho Hang-mui, of the Democratic Party, said she was getting in touch with those who had bought niches in the monastery to discuss compensation or relocation.

The Lands Department said it welcomed the court's decision and was taking legal advice on further action. Gig Lok Monastery refused to comment and representatives of Ching Leung Nunnery could not be reached.