LCQ14: Removal arrangement for illegal graves

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Helena Wong and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (March 19):


     I have learnt that some residents affected by unauthorised private columbaria held a meeting with officials of the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) in October last year.  As the authorities had removed the illegal graves on the slope north of Diamond Hill Urn Cemetery and delivered the human remains and cremains to Sandy Ridge Cemetery for burial, those residents requested the Government to remove the urns at the unauthorised columbarium built on illegally occupied government land by Gig Lok Temple in Tuen Mun.  The Lands Department stated that assistance of FHB was needed for temporary deposition of such urns at public columbaria while FHB indicated that it had to seek legal advice on the matter.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1)  whether FHB has sought legal advice on the aforesaid matter; if so, of the advice obtained; if not, the reasons for that; and

(2)  of the legal basis for removing the illegal graves in the vicinity of Diamond Hill Urn Cemetery and delivering the human remains and cremains to Sandy Ridge Cemetery for burial?



     My reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Member is set out below.

(1)  The Administration is actively considering applying for a court order requiring Gig Lok Monastery to remove the ashes interred on unleased Government land.  In order not to prejudice the Government's legal actions, it is not appropriate for us to disclose the details of our legal advice.

(2)  Under section 118(1) of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) (the Ordinance), any person who, without the permission in writing of the Authority, buries any human remains, or deposits any urn or other receptacle containing any human remains, otherwise than in a cemetery, shall be guilty of an offence.  Furthermore, according to section 118(4) of the Ordinance, any human remains buried, or any urn or other receptacle containing any human remains deposited outside a cemetery may be removed by the Authority and buried or deposited inside a cemetery or otherwise disposed of in such decent manner as the Authority may think fit provided that the consent of the Secretary for Home Affairs shall be obtained before such remains are, or such urn or other receptacle is, removed.  According to section 6 of the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 28), the Lands Department may take action against those who occupy unleased Government land without the permission of the Authority.

     The Administration first received report of suspected illegal graves on unleased Government land on the slopes outside the northern boundary of Diamond Hill Urn Cemetery from a member of the public in July 2010.  Our subsequent investigation revealed that there were some 890 illegal graves at the above location.  

     After consulting the Wong Tai Sin District Council and obtaining the consent of the Secretary for Home Affairs, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Lands Department (LandsD) arranged joint operations to remove the illegal graves at the above location.  While LandsD would repossess and reinstate the unleased Government land at Diamond Hill, any buried human remains, or any urn or other receptacle containing any human remains that are removed from the illegal graves would be taken by FEHD to the Sandy Ridge Cemetery for storage.  Should they remain unclaimed after 6 years, the human remains would be cremated with the ashes buried in the communal grave inside the Sandy Ridge Cemetery.

     FEHD and LandsD posted notices in 2011, 2012 and 2013, informing descendants to remove the illegal graves by a specific deadline or else the Authority would conduct removal action without further notice.  After expiry of the final deadline (i.e. June 5, 2013), FEHD and LandsD commenced removal operations in phases starting from July 8, 2013.  By February 2014, 778 illegal graves had been removed, including 520 cases in which the human remains were removed by the descendants themselves voluntarily.

     Under Cap. 132, the definition of "human remains" does not include human ashes (ashes).  That being the case, FEHD has no authority to remove ashes under the existing legislation.  The aforementioned joint enforcement actions by FEHD and LandsD against illegal burials do not involve the removal of ashes.

Ends/Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Issued at HKT 12:29