In an apparent environment-friendly initiative, the Nimtalla crematorium in Kolkata is giving people the option of using cow dung cakes instead of wood and electric cremations.
Last month, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation approved the use of burning cow dung cakes at the crematorium. Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior official of the KMC claimed that cow dung cakes are more environment-friendly, besides holding religious significance. Thus far, over 35 families have reportedly availed of this new option, since it’s cheaper and faster than wood. Cow dung for this facility is sourced from the Calcutta Pinjrapole Society, a local non-profit set up in the late 19th century for cow protection.
“Apart from promoting cow protection and providing employment to people, this option is more environment-friendly compared to wood. One has to cut two trees to cremate a body. Moreover, according to the green bench, the ashes of wood cannot be thrown into rivers since it is a polluting agent. But the ashes of cow dung cakes can be put into the river,” said Pawan Tibrewal, secretary of the Prerna Foundation, which is responsible for the upkeep of the Nimtalla facility.
This isn’t the first time that a crematorium in India has offered cow dung cakes as an alternative to wood or the electric method.
The Nagpur Municipal Corporation in Maharashtra had adopted a similar practice, and in fact, its counterparts in Kolkata had sought their expertise and assistance before launching this latest alternative at the Nimtalla crematorium.
On a daily basis, the crematorium handles over a 100 dead bodies. As per The Indian Express, if wood is used to cremate a body, it would take 165 minutes and cost Rs 26,000.
Cow dung cake-based cremation, meanwhile, takes 135 minutes and costs Rs 1,750. Each cremation reportedly requires 200 cakes of cow dung. Officials say that the crematorium hopes to reduce the time taken for dung-based cremation using ghee and camphor. The electric furnace option remains the cheapest and fastest option, taking 45 minutes and costing only Rs 250.
“It (use of cow dung) was an ancient practice and according to Vedic norms. Bodies which have more water content take around 2.5 hours to be cremated, while others take a little over 2 hours when using cow dung,” said Puroshottam, a Dom (cremation worker) at Nimtalla to The Indian Express.
However, not everyone is convinced that burning cow dung cakes is an environment-friendly step. Speaking to The Better India, a senior researcher working on air pollution with the Centre for Science and Environment argues that in terms of emissions, there isn’t too much difference between wood and cow dung.
“In fact, our studies show that cow dung emits a higher concentration of particulate matter. Perhaps, the move could be deemed environment-friendly in terms of preventing deforestation, and putting cow dung to better use,” he said.