Niches shock for grieving relatives
Among the tens of thousands of Hongkongers who visited ancestors' graves for yesterday's Ching Ming Festival, some did not know the columbariums housing their relatives' ashes had been labelled illegal just days earlier.
On Friday the government placed eight private columbariums on its list of facilities that fail to comply with land or town planning laws, raising the number so listed to 74.
Ip Shu-wing, 20, whose father's ashes have been stored for almost a year in a temporary niche in Winslow Street, Hung Hom, one of the eight columbariums newly declared illegal, said: 'I did not know this place was listed as illegal, or receive any notification from the operator saying it was.'
Ip said her family was paying HK$300 a month to rent the niche, and they had no other choices. 'We have been waiting to move the ashes to a permanent government cemetery since my dad passed away, but there is no place available for him,' she said.
At the columbarium visited by Ip, an employee defended the operation by saying it provided families with a much needed service.
'The problem is not ours. If the government provided enough niches there would be no demand for our services,' she said, refusing to identify herself.
A public consultation on licensing private columbariums ended last month. Many respondents complained about the shortages of urn niches in the city and the dodgy practices of illegal columbariums.
Over the years, illegal columbariums have caused nuisance to people living near them. 'It is very noisy when there are ritual services, and I do not feel good living next to columbarium niches,' said Charlie Chow, who lives directly above the columbarium in Winslow Street.
He had complained several times to the local district councillor, but nothing had improved, Chow said. He was also worried about fire risks, but he had no money to move away.
Six of the columbariums newly declared to be illegal are in Hung Hom, with the others in Tuen Mun and Tung Chung.
The Food and Health Bureau published a consultation document on December 13, proposing legislation that would license and regulate the business of storing urns.
Meanwhile, as Hongkongers visited graves across the city yesterday, at AsiaWorld-Expo on Lantau the Chinese Confucian Academy organised a ceremony that drew thousands of locals, mainland visitors and representatives of different religions to honour their ancestors.
The estimated number of cremations in Hong Kong per year between 2010 and 2019, according to the government