Amidst COVID-19 Surge, Indian Startup Uses Cow Dung Logs to Cremate Poor

May 11, 2021 Updated: May 11, 2021

NEW DELHI—Amidst the deadly COVID-19 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 sustainable cow dung-based logs.

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

The civic authorities of Delhi have sought assistance from its forest department and from neighboring states but continue to face problems because neighboring states are also facing a surge.

Ayush Sultania, team leader of Project Arth, told The Epoch Times that each cremation requires 660 to 880 pounds of wood or two to three trees depending on the weight of the corpse. Amid the deadly second surge, this is causing more deforestation and air pollution.

“Everyone talks about life before death and we are trying to save people, but no one is talking about those 3,000 to 4,000 people dying daily [across India due to COVID-19],” Sultania said. Amidst the surge, people shrink from confronting the reality of the number of deaths, because more news about death spreads panic, he said.

In the past week, Indian media have reported about unclaimed COVID-19 bodies being found in the Yamuna River in certain regions, as well as more than 100 bodies found in the Ganges River.

There are also reports about charities, policemen, and good Samaritans performing the last rites of the unidentified COVID-19 dead. Sultania said this is where Project Arth has also tried to do its bit.

A dignified cremation is considered extremely important in India, he said, “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],” he said.

Project Arth has cremated more than 200 unclaimed or poor people’s COVID-19 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,” he said.

In response to the acute shortage of wood, a few civic bodies in Delhi have begun to link cremation grounds with dairies for cow dung logs, and an official order has 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 Technology–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 had high calorific value, and produced lower particulate pollution and less carbon oxides and nitrogen emissions compared to the conventional wood logs.

Sultania said cow dung is accepted in Indian culture. Even in traditional cremations, the pyre is built over dirt coated with a thin layer of cow dung because it’s considered auspicious. This gives cultural acceptability to the cow dung products, he said, just like elephant dung 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 the 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 Arth 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?”

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 and 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],” Sultania said.

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. Sultania hopes the product will continue to find greater acceptability.

Sultania said the project is fighting for Indian culture and applauded Delhi’s civic bodies’ decision to use cow dung logs for COVID-19 cremations.

Project Arth is asking for donations to support the cremations of unclaimed COVID-19 victims or for the poor:

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