City’s demand for alternative cremation methods dwindles

During the second Covid-19 wave earlier this year, CNG and electric crematoriums were used. Since then, however, people have returned to traditional wood-based cremations.
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Representative Image
Published on Nov 29, 2021 03:14 AM IST
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ByParas Singh

The subsequent waves of Covid-19 pandemic pushed alternative cremation methods into prominence in the city earlier this year but the demand for CNG and electric crematoriums have dwindled drastically in the subsequent months as people have returned to traditional wood-based cremations.

Delhi had just two CNG crematoria earlier -- at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh Shamshan Bhumi -- but the pandemic saw the government doubling the number of furnaces at these facilities, and setting up new units in places like Green Park, Karkardooma, Subhash Nagar and Ghazipur.

Avdhesh Kumar, funeral supervisor at the city’s biggest cremation ground at Nigambodh Ghat, said that people are returning to traditional funerals. “Almost everyone now prefers wood-based traditional cremation instead of CNG cremations, which is now less than 10%. When there was rush due to Covid, the CNG furnaces were in very high demand as people wanted a quicker medium. If there are around 50 normal wood-based cremations in a day, we get hardly 5-6 requests for CNG units now,” Kumar said.

Across the western part of the city, Punjabi Bagh Shamshan Bhumi operates second largest battery of four CNG hearths but the funeral managers claim that these are barely utilised. “...some have religious apprehensions about the alternative methods. Many of them state that relatives will object to a non-traditional methods,” said a funeral manager.

In the last one year alone, five new CNG crematorium sites -- in Dwarka Sector 24, Jwala Nagar, Seemapuri and Aya Nagar -- have been approved. Officials said that the electric unit at Green Park, which was laying unused for years, was converted to CNG in February this year, and the electric crematorium at Sarai Kale Khan is used only to cremate unclaimed bodies.

Before the onset of the pandemic, the city used to see around 90,000 cremations every year, out of which over 90% were wood-based traditional cremations. The latest statistics released by the Delhi government in the ‘Annual Report on Registration of Births & Deaths in Delhi-2020’ shows that over 140,000 deaths were registered in 2020.

Adding to pollution

Each wood based traditional cremation utilises 400-500kg of wood and it is estimated that at least 32 million kilos of wood is consumed in the shamshan bhumis of the city.

Delhi witnessed wood shortage in April-May period as demand grew sharply due to Covid related deaths. A 2016 study conducted by IIT Kanpur, which took a conservative amount of 216kg wood per funeral and assessed only 53 cremation sites, indicated that cremation sites are adding 4% of toxic carbon monoxide emissions into Delhi’s air. It concluded that over 2,129kg carbon monoxide, 33kg of sulphur dioxide, 346kg of PM10 and 312kg of PM2.5 dust particles were being emitted every day by cremations.

While hearing a 2016 case, the National Green Tribunal had directed the Union environment ministry and the Delhi government to initiate programmes to provide alternative modes of cremation, saying the “traditional method of wooden pyres emitted hazardous pollutants into the environment”.

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Thursday, January 27, 2022