Bodies in Ganga bring back focus on electric crematoria
The sight of partially decomposed and bloated bodies floating in river Ganga in Buxar last month, which led to a nationwide outrage, has once again turned the spotlight on the need for more electric crematoria in the state, especially for towns situated along the banks of Ganga.
There are 11 electric crematoria in the state. Of these, six are in Patna district — Bans Ghat-2, Gulbi Ghat-2, Khajekalan-1 and Mokama-1) — besides one each in Sonepur, Bhagalpur, Munger, Purnia and Hajipur. Two of them, at Hajipur and Mokama, are out of order.
Buxar has none. District magistrate (DM) Aman Samir said the administration has been pursuing the matter. “Proposal for installation of an electric crematorium was sent to the urban development department six months back,” he said.
In 2018, the Patna High Court had directed the state government to construct at least one electric crematorium in each of the 38 districts, but they are yet to see light of day.
In the absence of an electric crematorium or earmarked cremation grounds, poor families often find the expenses of traditional method of cremation too high and prefer the “Jal Samadhi” for the dead by immersing the body in the river, residents at Buxar said.
Vikas Chandra, a Patna-based social activist, said there’s been the demand for this facility in all the 38 districts of the state. “Steps in this direction were initiated by the government in 2018, but things are still half-way. The electric crematoria at Samariya Ghat in Begusarai, Gaya and Gopalganj are still under construction,” he said.
To add to the problem, there are many districts located along the Ganga where there is no earmarked space for cremation.
For instance, in Buxar, Muktidhaam is the only earmarked cremation ground. “Things become difficult during rainy season. It gets inundated by river water and people have no option but to dump bodies in river water,” says Shiv Prakash Rai , a Buxar resident, adding that people from four districts, Buxar, Sasaram, Kaimur and Bhojpur turn up to perform last rites at Muktidhaam, which is believed to be sacred. “A cost-effective electric crematorium would have proved to be very useful for many families,” he says.
Rai’s view was endorsed by Rachna Patil, district magistrate of Munger, a town also situated along the Ganga bank. “It can be very effective in curbing pollution. Munger is also located along the Ganga river. But the good thing is it already has an electric crematorium,” she said.
The silver lining
The only solace is that after the bodies were found in Ganga, subsequent studies have not found any adverse noticeable changes in water quality. “Surprisingly, no variation has been noticed in the quality of water in Ganga after the bodies were found. We have started weekly monitoring of water samples from the river. In fact, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has directed us to monitor water quality on weekly basis and check the water quality on bacteriological parameters as well as on conventional parameters,” said S Chandrashekhar, member secretary, Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB).
The conventional parameters of pH, colour, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) in water are being monitored on weekly basis and not much difference has been observed in water quality, he said.
Earlier, this monitoring was done fortnightly.
The CPCB has also emphasized the need for Covid virus analysis of the water by National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, which has recently established protocol for testing Covid-19 virus in sewage.
Recently, a team of experts from Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, also visited Buxar for the collection of samples. “Samples have been sent to Pune for tests. We are waiting for its report,” said Chandrashekhar.
Ajay Yadav, former state convener of the Ganga Samagra, an NGO working to keep Ganga clean, said, “Dumping of bodies in the river needs to be stopped. There should be proper arrangements of cremation at every place.”
Rajiv Ranjan, an environmentalist, said traditional method of cremation is very expensive in any case. “A huge amount of wood is needed for the cremation. It generally costs one nearly ₹5,000 while the use of electric crematorium costs hardly ₹350,” he said. “Besides, there’s no need of felling so many trees,” he said.
State of cremations
There are 12 electric crematoria in the state. Of these, six are in Patna district and one each in Muzaffarpur, Sonepur, Bhagalpur, Munger, Purnia and Hajipur.
High Court order
In 2018, the Patna High Court had directed the state government to construct at least one electric crematorium in each of the 38 districts, but they are still a far cry.