Amidst COVID Surge an Indian Startup Wants to Save Trees, Use Cow Dung Logs for Cremating Poor

NEW DELHI—Amidst the deadly COVID surge in India, a startup is using fuel-efficient cow dung logs as an alternative to wood to cremate poor and unidentified bodies.

In India 8.2 million wood-based cremations are done every year for which 16.4 million trees are cut, according to Project Arth, a social initiative that wants to reduce deforestation and use cow dung-based logs to sustain society.

With the pandemic surging in India since last month and the number of wood-based cremations only increasing, Indian media last week were replete with reports about the acute wood shortage in the capital New Delhi.

The civic authorities of Delhi tried to seek assistance from their forest department and from the neighboring states but continued to face problems because the neighboring states are also simultaneously facing a surge.

Ayush Sultania, the team leader of Project Arth told The Epoch Times over the phone that each cremation requires 300-400 kilograms of wood or 2-3 trees depending upon the weight of the corpse. With the deadly second surge, this is not only demanding more deforestation but also causing more air pollution.

“Everyone talks about life before death and we are trying to save people, but no one is talking about those 3000-4000 people dying daily [across India due to COVID],” said Sultania. A dignified cremation is considered extremely important in India, he said, but amidst the surge, people shirk from confronting the reality of the dead because more news about death spreads panic.

In the past week, Indian media have reported about unclaimed COVID bodies found in certain regions in the river Yamuna as well as over 100 bodies found in the river Ganges.

There are also many reports about charities, policemen as well as good Samaritans doing the last rites of the unidentified COVID dead, and Sultania said this is where Project Arth has also tried to do its bit.

“So we started giving them good cremation. We collaborated with someone who’s getting the unclaimed bodies from the police and we are giving them cremations [using cow dung logs],” said Sultania. Project Arth has cremated over 200 unclaimed or poor people’s COVID bodies since the campaign started last month in the three Indian cities of Delhi, Rajkot, and Gwalior. “In the coming days, we will be doing more in Noida and Meerut.”

In response to the acute shortage of wood, a few civic bodies in Delhi have also started linking cremation grounds with dairies for cow dung logs, and an official order in this regard has already been issued by Delhi Municipal Corporation’s Public Health Department, reported the Times of India.

Epoch Times Photo
Project Arth offering free cow dung logs outside Old Seema Puri crematorium in New Delhi on May 5, 2021. (Picture courtesy Project Arth)

Science Behind Cow Dung Logs

Project Arth consists of students from the Indian Institute of Science, New Delhi, a premier institute that attracts the best talent from around the country. This team’s research found that logs made from cow dung-based biomass fuel have high calorific value, and produce lower particulate pollution and lesser carbon oxides and nitrogen emissions compared to the conventional wood logs.

Sultania said that cow dung has acceptability in Indian culture. Even in traditional cremations, the pyre is built over earth coated with a thin layer of cow dung because it is considered auspicious. This gives cultural acceptability to the cow dung products, he said, just like elephant poo products in Sri Lanka and Thailand have commercial value.

“In the villages of India, in Uttar Pradesh and in [certain] villages in South India, people bring two cow dung plates or cow dung cakes [cow dung dried in sun and used as biofuel]. Let’s say 100 people are going to attend a funeral or cremation. Everyone brings two cow dung plates for the cremation,” he said adding that this is from where Project Earth got the idea of using cow dung-based biomass fuel for cremations.

“So why can’t we manufacture a cow dung log? Why can’t we have cow dung in the shape of a log,” said Sultania. Every day in India 520 million kilograms of cow dung is wasted—35 percent is disposed of unhygienically clogging drains and polluting groundwater while 65 percent is dumped into heaps allowed to decompose anaerobically producing greenhouse gases, according to Project Arth.

Epoch Times Photo
Cow dung logs sun drying at the Shri Krishna Gaushala (shelter for cows) in New Delhi on April 25, 2021. (Courtesy of Project Arth)

“Methane gas has an impact on human bodies. It may reduce the oxygen levels in the environment. It can cause regular headaches [to those in the vicinity of a cow dung open disposal site],” said Sultania.

He said his team wanted to solve this cow dung problem and also wanted to generate profit out of waste while innovating technologically.

Project Arth has created a machine to create logs out of cow dungs and is constantly researching how to create new products and wealth out of cow dung.

“If you see at one point we fight for our culture and second where there’s a problem we are not ready to solve it,” said Sultania while applauding Delhi’s civic bodies decision to use cow dung logs for COVID cremations. He hoped that the product finds greater acceptability.

Project Arth is asking for donations to support the cremations of unclaimed COVID victims or for the poor:


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