Bhubaneswar: The twin city of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar is waiting for eco-friendly crematorium even as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed to stop disposing of bodies in wooden pyre. Worse, most of the crematoriums in the two cities have been shrinked due to illegal encroachments.

The Satyanagar Electric Crematorium is hardly functioning while the LPG gas crematorium of Khan Nagar in Cuttack is laying defunct since the Fani cyclone hit the State.

Early in 2016, the National Green Tribunal had directed the union environment ministry and State governments to initiate programmes to provide alternative modes of cremation, saying the traditional method of wooden pyres emitted hazardous pollutants into the environment. Three years ago, the Odisha State Pollution Control Board had revealed that the smog generated from burning of bodies at the Satyanagar Crematorium emits particulate matter (PM-10) much above the permitted level of 100 micrograms; the raw smog released from the pyres rises PM-10 up to 200 microgram. As the place is within a thickly residential area, this is very harmful for the inhabitants.

Even though the civic body had introduced an electric crematorium in 1986, the facility has been more out of use then functioning. Repeated breakdowns due to non-maintenance have been the norm. The defunct facility has been affecting people belonging to the lower-income group who are finding it tough to cremate the deceased owing to the high cost of firewood.

In Katak, the civic body had introduced electric furnace system at the Khan Nagar crematorium in 1980. After struggling to bear the electricity bill, the CMC converted the three-decade-old electric unit into an LPG one in 2017, at a cost of Rs 15 lakhs. The LPG furnace system charged Rs 250 for adult and Rs 50 per child below 12-year-old while BPL and ration cardholders and the unclaimed bodies availed the facility at free of cost. This furnace was damaged in the Fani Cyclone and is not functioning.

A city based trust; Moksh Dwaar,  has given a plan along with the project report to the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation for converting the Satyanagar Crematorium into a LPG/CNG furnace in October 2019. The use of natural gas produces around 90 per cent less pollution than the funeral pyre. This eco-friendly system is a cheaper option, at Rs 800, quite less than the cost of the traditional pyre which is around Rs 3,000.  It takes about an hour-and-half or less for the body to turn into ashes.

According to Renu Narula, one of the Trustees of Moksha Dwar, it is impossible to change age-old tradition overnight; the change has to come slowly. She says that the CNG furnace will bring down the usage of wood, if not completely; at least the requirement can be halved. With the government and environment NGOs not having launched any initiatives to avoid pollution caused by wood pyres, the public certainly doesn’t get to resort to a cleaner option. The capital cost of the gas models varies from Rs 15 lakhs to Rs 33 lakhs, depending on the capacity. The prospect of getting cheaper gas when pipelines are laid will make it more cost effective.

The Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation is set to construct two more crematoriums in view of shortage of space in the existing facilities. The city’s oldest crematorium at Kali Gadia in Bhimtangi is in a dilapidated condition due to illegal encroachments. The Damana village had a crematorium spread over 1.25 acres, now little remains as major portions have been encroached upon with several illegal constructions. The Garabadu crematorium at Kapilaprasad in the Old Town was originally spread over 2.5 acres, however, nearly 2 acres has been illegally encroached upon and constructions made. The old timers of Nayapalli say that there were three graveyards spreading over 14 acre of land in the four villages. Most of these have been leased out to educational institutions and only around half an acre of land is left. All these places are dirty, unkempt and without modern facilities. Many of them are not even walled. There is an immediate need for Electric or Gas based crematoriums at these places.

Using environment friendly methods to cremate dead bodies is the way forward for all, says Nalini Sarma. “We use at least one fully grown tree to burn one body. In India, we cremate approximately 50 lakhs dead bodies each year, so one can just imagine the magnitude of loss to the planet. Use of wood for cremation is a not a religion-mandated ritual, many people believe so but it is just a myth. Even if Hindus  use LPG it will not be going against the scriptures at all, the shastras only mention about consigning the body to flames  and there is no mention on what apparatus has to be used for  that.”

The plan to modernise the Satyanagar crematorium was put on hold considering the fact that the civic body’s new state-of-the-art multi-storey headquarters is coming up opposite it. They object that a thirty foot chimney will be an eyesore and that the hot emission will pollute. However the burning of nearly 25 wood pyres each day instead brings little solace. There are even plans of shifting the crematorium portion, the graveyard and cemetery will be left intact. 

By:Anil Dhir