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Delhi’s Crematoriums Are Running Out of Wood, Asking Forest Dept For Help

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Apr 28, 2021

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Cremation sites in New Delhi are being inundated with bodies during the second Covid19 wave and facing a shortage of space as well as wood used for burning pyres. The municipal agencies across the city have reached out to the state forest department to help arrange a supply of wood.

This news aligns with grim images coming from crematorium sites over the last few days: Covid dead have been photographed lain outside crematoriums. Hospital ambulances form one big queue outside these grounds, and families say they have had to wait for hours to get a funeral pure. Many sites have been carrying out mass cremations, while others have built make-shift funeral pyres at parking lots, parks, and other open spaces, to keep up with the number of bodies. Delhi recorded 380 deaths on Monday, the highest ever in one day.

Crematorium workers have expressed concern about the shortage of wood, which is used as a fuel for burning pyres, and warn the stock will deplete quickly. Nigambodh Ghat, Delhi’s largest crematorium site, required 6,000-8,000 kg of wood every day before the second wave; now, it uses more than 10 times that — 80,000-90,000 kg daily, according to a Hindustan Times (HT) report. Each pyre needs around 500-600 kg of wood; the government is getting more requests each day to start cutting down trees in parks.


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“Every day we are getting over 200-300 bodies, so you can calculate how much wood we need daily,” Shiv Kumar, who works at the Paschim Vihar cremation ground, told HT. The Delhi government had issued an order last week allowing crematoriums to use dried cow dung as an alternative fuel. The crematoriums are trying to cope and expand to manage the growing demand for their services: Sarai Kale Khan crematorium built 27 new pyres, and officials are looking to use fertile ground near the Yamuna River as a site to cremate the dead.

India’s Covid19 numbers have risen sharply — the country continues to report more than 3 lakh cases steadily every day; 3,293 people have died in the span of one day, and more Covid cases were recorded here in the last seven days than in any other country. Many health experts believe India’s numbers are severely underreported — the actual number of deaths could be 10 times higher than the current data. The unfolding crisis is at “its most visceral in the overwhelmed graveyards and crematoriums,” an Al Jazeera report notes, “as bright, glowing funeral pyres light up the night sky in the worst-hit cities.”

India is reeling under the weight of the pandemic: new variants, large public gatherings, and slow vaccine distribution make what the World Health Organization chief called a “perfect storm.” The overburdened crematorium workers are one snapshot of what the eye of the storm looks like. There is not only a lack of space, but a lack of supplies to burn the dead — such is the impact of the devastating second wave.

“The virus is swallowing our city’s people like a monster,” Mamtesh Sharma, an official at Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera. “We are just burning bodies as they arrive. … It is as if we are in the middle of a war.”

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Written By Saumya Kalia

Saumya Kalia is Associate Editor at The Swaddle. Her journalism and writing explore issues of social justice, digital sub-cultures, media ecosystem, literature and memory as they cut across socio-cultural periods. You can reach her at @Saumya_Kalia.

  1. Ridhi

    I request we suggest and procure cowdung cakes to burn bodies at mass level. We cannot damage the parks and forests.

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