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Making funeral pyres eco-friendly

Sunday 15 May 2005, by DHAR*Aarti

NEW DELHI: Over 40 million trees are consumed annually in the conventional Hindu system of cremation, leading to the denudation of 1,500-2,000 sq km of forests. It also results in the emission of 7.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, adding to global warming and polluting surroundings with suspended particulate matter.

Theoretically speaking, only 22 kg of firewood is required for the disposal of a body but practically 400-600 kg is used. Mokshda Paryavaran Evan Van Suraksha Samiti, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which gathered the statistics, has devised an environmental-friendly cremation system.

"It is difficult to change age-old traditions and we faced a lot of opposition when we introduced the system about 12 years ago," says Vinod Kumar Aggarwal, who conceived the idea of Mokshda. He was moved by the sight of poor people picking up wood from other pyres to cremate their kin or just immersing partially-burnt bodies in rivers.

A mechanical engineer, Mr. Aggarwal sought help from his friends, involved in the Yamuna Action Plan, under which electric crematoriums were being encouraged. He was asked to develop a simple model of the green crematorium, which was adopted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

"Mokshda came up with an environment-friendly pyre which can reduce firewood consumption to about 150 kg and is free from air pollution. The system provides for all Hindu rituals and is user-friendly also," Mr. Aggarwal told The Hindu .

Scientific improvement

Mokshda is a scientific and mechanical improvement of the traditional pyre. The main platform has been made of high-grade heat resistant alloy steel or `ashtha dhatu,’ which can withstand high temperaturesand corrosion.

To improve combustion efficiency and reduce wood consumption, a hood and chimney have been provided over the platform. A gas scrubber in the chimney ensures pollution-free emission. The system also reduces fuel consumption and cremation time significantly.

To reduce the cycle time of the cremation process and ensure that the system is available for the next operation immediately, a tray has been provided to collect ashes.

It is removed after cremation and kept in a rack. Instead of being immersed in the river, ashes are used to improve the aesthetic environment of the cremation ground.

Survey findings

Surveys have shown that the Mokshda Green Cremation System saves wood by 50 per cent, reduces air pollution by 60 per cent, cuts down time by 50 per cent and money by 50 per cent, besides leaving no scope for throwing partially-burnt bodies into rivers.

It took 12 years and 41 stages of development with 71 modifications in design for Mokshda to make the system technically sound, environment-friendly and user-acceptable. It surveyed about 350 cremation grounds across the country to make its design user-friendly. It runs seven cremation grounds in Vadodara and one in Faridabad. It plans similar set-ups at 80 places in 11 major cities.

The Environment and Forest Ministry is providing 70 per cent of the capital cost to Mokshda under its National River Conservation Plan. The United Nations Development Fund has approved $ 25,000 for the project under Global Environment Facility.

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