Many in the capital may not know that there are four ghats here which offer environment-friendly substitutes to the conventional manner of cremating a dead.
At the city’s oldest cremation ground — Nigambodh Ghat — where more than 20,000 bodies are cremated in the conventional manner, which needs about four quintals of wood, that takes a complete day to burn and causes huge amount of pollution, there is also a cost effective and environment-friendly CNG crematorium, which is opted for by hardly a 1,000 families in a year.
“It takes about an hour-and-half or less for the body to turn into ashes in this machine,” the CNG machine operator, Harinder, 51, said. The conventional funeral pyre blocks the space for half a day or more.
The CNG machine was installed at the Ghat in November 2012.
This eco-friendly system is a cheaper option, at Rs 1,000, quite less than the cost of the traditional pyre which is around Rs 3,000. However, the capital cost of its installation is more than Rs 1.5 crore.
This machine uses natural gas, helps saving wood and according to experts, produces around 90 per cent less pollution than the funeral pyre.
The Ghat has another option, Mokshda Harit, which is a good substitute to the conventional pyre, as this one needs about two quintal less wood than the conventional way. This one costs Rs 1,200 and takes about two hours for the wood and the body to incinerate.
“On an average, there are about 2,000 bodies burned on it in a year,” a 69-year-old supervisor, who didn’t want to be named, told IANS.
This machine used for cremation has been installed by Mokshda, a nonprofit group in New Delhi that is campaigning for an environmentally friendly approach to cremation in eight grounds in the capital.
As per the age-old Hindu tradition, Antyesti or the funeral rites for the dead, are performed with the body carried near a river or a waterbody by family and friends, and burned after placing on a wooden pyre. Later, the ashes are immersed in the Ganges or other rivers.
The flowers, urns and other items used for the rituals performed prior to the cremation are later dumped into the river along with the ashes and the bones.
With the government and environment NGOs not having launched any initiatives to avoid water pollution caused this way, the public certainly doesn’t get to resort to a cleaner option but strangely the initiatives taken to avoid air pollution also don’t stand a chance for several reasons.
“A person who has lost a parent is so shocked by the death that the thought of protecting the environment doesn’t strike him. The relatives around too criticise him if he decides to go for the eco-friendly option, saying he is not ready to spend a little extra money for someone who is dead,” Mokshda Director Anshul Garg said.
Garg said the Mokshda model was created to bring down the usage of wood. “If not completely, at least the requirement of wood can be halved,” he said, adding: “It is impossible to change age-old tradition overnight.”
“The change has to come slowly. The capital cost of models we create varies from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 33 lakh.” This, he said, depends on the population of the place where it is being installed.
Garg said that the principal hurdle in making green cremation a success is the wood mafia. “Around 80 to 90 per cent of the wood comes illegally.”
Early in 2016, the National Green Tribunal directed the Environment Ministry and Delhi government to initiate programmes to provide alternative modes of cremation, saying the traditional method of wooden pyres emitted hazardous pollutants into the environment.
“…there are many attempts by us to explain to people about the environmental aspect but they refuse to understand. Many of those who sort of agree to resort to the Mokshda method later get influenced by pandits who discourage them from doing so,” the superviser at Nigambodh said, adding the priests do so to make more money.
Daulat Sharma, head priest at Dayanand Muktidham Crematorium in Nizamuddin West here, however, feels that the “eco-friendly is the future”.
“People don’t wish to go against the tradition,” Sharma told IANS.
He said they are not ready to understand the harms of deforestation as “their religious faith is more important to them”.
The crematorium has a monthly demand of about 250 cremations on the traditional pyres, and 90 in the electric one, which was installed in 2003.
The capital cost of the installing an electric crematorium is as high as Rs one crore. The maintenance cost is also high at around Rs 3 lakh. Thus, the cost of a cremation is Rs 3,500 almost the same as the conventional choice.
The city has two more CNG crematoriums — in Punjabi Bagh, which receives around 30 bodies per month and in Sarai Kale Khan, where the unidentified or unclaimed bodies are cremated.
(Mudita Girotra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Mudita Girotra