Rama Devi (name changed), 53, a daily wage labourer hit hard by the pandemic, was left with no money to even cremate her 56-year-old husband when he died of Covid-19 this month. She was forced to sit with his body on a road in Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior for hours until she somehow got in touch with Ramesh Khushwaha, a member of Project Arth, which has been helping people who cannot afford cremations, using the cell phone of a stranger. Khushwaha rushed to the location and had the body sent to the nearest cremation ground for last rites.
Project Arth is an initiative launched by Enactus IIT Delhi, the student chapter of Enactus, an international organisation of student, academics, and business leaders, in New Delhi, Gwalior and Rajkot. It seeks to reduce deforestation by replacing wood used in cremations with material made of cow dung, wood dust, and crop stubble.
The surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths triggered a shortage of wood needed for cremations.
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Project Arth said it sponsored over 200 cremations of the poor and unclaimed bodies. “Outside Delhi, we helped the poor and needy directly and in Delhi, we collaborated with crematoriums. We provided the cow dung logs to the six crematoriums in New Delhi free of cost,” said Ayush Sultania, the head of Project Arth.
In Delhi, Project Arth has collaborated with Seemapuri, Green Park, Basant Gaon, Shahpur Jat, Haiderpur, and Chirag Dilli crematoriums.
Jitender Singh Shunty, the founder of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal (SBSSD) that has been helping with cremations, said they used the material provided by Project Arth for the last rites in May. “They have given us three tonnes of cow dung logs free of cost which we use regularly. It reduces pollution and saves trees. It is a great initiative.”
Sultania said crematoriums in Delhi were cremating about 250 bodies daily at one point and each body requires about 300kg of wood. “Delhi gets its wood from Uttar Pradesh and as a result, Uttar Pradesh’s forest cover is decreasing. Therefore, there is a need for an alternative fuel which is not only renewable but also minimises pollution,” said Sultania. “Cow dung logs not only minimise deforestation but also reduce carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emission by 20%,” added Sultania, citing the research conducted by Project Arth.
Sultania said they have conducted the last rites of many abandoned bodies of the elderly, who died of Covid, and street dwellers. “Within a month we aim to increase the number of machines manufacturing cow dung logs, develop better infrastructure at gaushalas and set up storage facilities. We are planning to provide 1,000 sponsored dignified cremations in Delhi,” said Sultania.