The National Green Tribunal has asked the central and Delhi governments to initiate programmes for electricity and CNG to replace wood as fuel in funeral fires, a plan aimed at clearing the Capital’s toxic air.
A tribunal bench headed by justice UD Salvi said there was a need to adopt environment-friendly methods, adding that religious leaders should take the lead in changing conventions.
Delhi has dozens of traditional cremation grounds where Hindus cremate bodies by burning massive piles of firewood in the open, billowing out clouds of black smoke into the sky and generating large quantities of ash that’s thrown into rivers.
“The issue involves question of faith and circumstances in which the people live ... It is, therefore, the responsibility of the men who lead, particularly religious leaders, to steer the faith in a direction so as to change the mindset of people practicing their faith and make them adopt the practices which are environment-friendly,” the bench said, directing authorities, including the civic bodies of the city, to educate people.
Air pollution levels in the Capital reached alarming levels this winter and the Delhi high court last year said the city had turned into a “gas chamber”.
According to UN data, nearly 400-500 kg of wood is required to cremate a body with fifty million trees consumed by funeral pyres across the country every year. These produce 500,000 tonnes of ash and eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Delhi has 56 conventional cremation facilities. In comparison, there are merely four electricity-operated crematoriums and just one CNG-operated facility.
The green court was hearing a plea by advocate DM Bhalla who said cremation by conventional means added to air pollution and so alternative modes need to be used.
Sudha Bharadwaj, a priest at south Delhi’s Kalkaji Mandir, however, said looking for alternatives to traditional cremation is not an option. She said the last rites of a Hindu are not complete if the body is not burnt on a wooden pyre.
“Our body consists of five elements and these need to go back to their original form after death,” Bharadwaj said. “We can’t let go of our rituals, beliefs, sanskars. These are values passed on to us over generations.”