Electric furnace in disrepair, bodies burn next to Taj

June 11th, 2009 - 12:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Agra, June 11 (IANS) Every day, scores of bodies are cremated close to the Taj Mahal, with the smoke, fumes and soot directly affecting the world famous marble mausoleum. But an electric furnace that could prevent much of this pollution lies in a state of disrepair for over a year.
The Agra Development Authority (ADA), which runs the furnace, apparently has no funds to repair it.

The conventional cremation ground, the Taj Ganj shamshan ghat, in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, continues to be a favourite with locals. The electric crematorium adjacent to it is located 100 metres from the monument.

“Actually, there are two furnaces - one run by the ADA and the other run and maintained by us. But for the past 17 months, the ADA furnace has been closed and nobody is showing any concern to repair it,” said Ashok Goyal of the 130-year-old Kshetra Bajaja Committee which runs the cremation ground.

“With so much additional pressure on our furnace, there can be a breakdown any day,” said Goyal.

The ADA claims it has no funds to repair the furnace in the adjacent electric crematorium even though each year it collects Rs.400-500 million in toll tax from tourists who visit the monuments in Agra.

ADA officials said they were processing the file to get the furnace repaired and would take an appropriate decision shortly.

“The shamshan ghat on an average gets about 50 to 60 dead bodies per day. For one body, you need firewood from five trees. Jungles are being cleared in the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium to support the conventional cremation grounds,” said Goyal.

The Kshetra Bajaja Committee also provide firewood and other materials for death rites at concessional rates.

Amar Nath Gupta and Ram Kumar Agarwal, who work at the electric crematorium, said the furnaces have to be closed every three months for a week. But “our furnace has been running non-stop for such a long time. Any day it can collapse and the work would have to be stopped,” said Agarwal.

The Kshetra Bajaja committee has been running the crematorium with its own resources, providing a 100 kva generator and various other facilities, but the ADA which should have been more accountable and responsive is dragging its feet, said Goyal.

“The more than 500-year-old cremation ground is unique in many respects. Nowhere in the world is a cremation ground located between two world heritage monuments,” said social activist Mukesh Jain.

In the past few years, the walls of the cremation grounds have been used by local artists to paint images of gods and goddesses and abstract art objects, all along the one-and-a-half-kilometre route shaded by lush green trees, overlooking the Yamuna on the left, the Agra Fort in the background and the Taj Mahal in the front.

The Supreme Court had approved the recommendations of the Dr S. Vardarajan Committee on pollution in Agra. In 1993, it ordered the shifting of the conventional cremation ground away from the Taj Mahal complex, but government apathy and opposition by Hindutva organisations stalled the move.

The suspended particulate matter (SPM) level in Agra despite all efforts has not come down to a safe limit in all these 20 years.

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