As dead bodies pile up, firewood for pyre runs out

The government has created three makeshift crematoria in and around Bengaluru, apart from the existing ones. To cremate a body, about oneand- half tons of firewood is required.

Published: 02nd May 2021 05:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd May 2021 05:27 AM   |  A+A-

People in PPE kits perform the last rites of their loved ones who died from Covid-19, amidst multiple pyres at Giddenahalli, in Bengaluru on Saturday | VINOD KUMAR T

Express News Service

BENGALURU: First, it was the lack of space. Now, with more and more bodies of Covid victims piling up at cremation grounds each day, the authorities are now faced with another problem - finding enough firewood for the pyres. The government has created three makeshift crematoria in and around Bengaluru, apart from the existing ones. To cremate a body, about oneand- half tons of firewood is required.

Officials from Karnataka Forest Department and the BBMP have expressed concerns over the shortage of wood as there is only about 150 tons of it left with the BBMP Forest Cell. The State Government opened three makeshift crematoria, where, in the last 10 days, about 200 tons of wood has been used. “For one pyre, about 1,300- 1,500 kg of wood is needed.

On an average, 42 bodies are being cremated daily at one site. At this rate, we are worried that we will be left with no wood and we will have no option but to axe trees,” said a BBMP official. The government is also procuring wood from the Forest Department, but at a price.

Officials from Karnataka Forest Industries Corporation said, “The government wanted wood immediately and we did not have the suitable type (with high calorific value, like Eucalyptus or Casasurina). Since we are only facilitators, we coordinated with suppliers and contractors,” said a senior Forest Department official.

If body count goes up, will be forced to axe trees: Officials

WHILE the BBMP is supplying the wood free of cost, the contractors are charging the government Rs 4,300 per ton. “We are aware that the cost is becoming difficult for the government to bear. With the rising Covid-19 and non-Covid deaths, the pressure at crematoria is increasing. So we are also in talks with timber depots to identify logs which can be used for pyre,” the forest official added.

The reason for opening non-electric crematoria was because of the long queues for cremation at electric and non-electric crematoria. Though at an electric crematorium, the body is burnt in 3-5 hours, in a wooden pyre, it takes 5-8 hours, depending on the type of wood. The reason why electric crematoria was started by the government was because of hygiene issues, non-availability of wood and quick management.

But, in the wake of the pandemic, the government was forced to go back to the traditional method, but availability of wood is becoming a challenge, the BBMP official explained. “We are now forced to think between environmental issues and government orders of providing wood to crematoria. If bodies keep increasing at this rate, we will be forced to axe trees or buy from contractors, who will also axe trees to meet the demand,” the BBMP official said in a tone of helplessness.

With Bengaluru Urban district witnessing an increase in Covid fatalities over the past few weeks, the situation at the city’s crematoriums and burial grounds is also grim. A long queue of ambulances carrying bodies can be seen waiting for hours. Volunteers say that the scene has worsened in the past two weeks


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