In what will hopefully turn out to be the execution of a long-standing plan, eco-friendly crematoriums are set to come up in villages along the Ganga river.
'Green' crematoriums, as they are often called, are supposed to use less wood, ensuring that fewer trees are cut and there is less environmental and water pollution.
According to a report in the Times of India, a green crematorium uses only 100 kg of wood per body while the traditional cremation requires up to 600 kg of wood. In fact, in 2007, the Los Angeles Times had carried a piece on traditional cremation in India which claimed that at least 50 million trees were felled in the country every year to build funeral pyres. A wooden pyre is also very expensive and adds significantly to funeral costs.
So what are the green crematoriums like? The TOI report likens the 'green' pyre to a 'pyre oven' that burns less wood and uses the heat generated effectively by directing it to body parts that take the longest to burn, such as the head and the torso.
The LA Times article had also mentioned the 'Green Cremation System' developed by Mokshda, a non-profit group in Delhi, that uses very little wood and burns the body in one-third the time compared to traditional pyres. With proper air flow and increased combustion efficiency, these crematoriums work like a wood stove.
Wood is essential in Hindu cremations which is why electric incinerators, which are otherwise used in urban areas, have failed to catch up among the more religious.
Burning less wood automatically reduces carbon emission but there is also another kind of pollution that authorities plan to deal with. After every cremation, a large amount of ash and waste from materials used in the ritual of cremation are dumped into the river. The green crematorium initiative plans to check water pollution.
Swami Chidanand Saraswati, who is supervising the initiative in Rishikesh, told the TOI that they will eventually bring down the amount of ashes immersed in the Ganga. People will only be allowed to immerse a handful.
Everyday at least 1,200 to 1,500 open cremations take place on the banks of the river Ganga in Haridwar, contributing significantly to environmental pollution.
The action plan for the Namami Gange programme that was drawn in 2015 also emphasises the need for eco-friendly cremation methods and the safe disposal of dead bodies. The Press Trust of India has reported that an expert committee has been set up to look into new technologies for innovation in wood based cremation.
The idea behind green crematoriums is not new either. In 2015, a Millenium Post report talked about environmentalists trying to replace traditional methods of cremation with incinerators. However, even though the incinerators took less time, less money and used less wood, people preferred the traditional method of cremation.
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