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Environmentalists eye India’s funeral pyres

Between 50 and 60 million trees are consumed in India’s 7 million open-air Hindu cremations each year, worrying a group of environmentalists.

The traditional Hindu funeral pyre — an ancient ritual that goes back thousands of years — poses a threat to the living, says Mokshda or “Salvation,” a Delhi-based non-governmental organization working to reduce the environmental impact of India’s funeral pyres.

“When you are burning those trees, you are emitting about eight million tons of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions,” Mokshda director Anshul Garg recently told the Cable News Network’s Teo Kermeliotis:

Air pollution and deforestation are not the only environmental threats caused by cremation: They also generate large quantities of ash, which are later thrown into rivers, adding to the toxicity of their waters, according to Mokshda.

Mokshda, which began operations in 1992, says it has installed 42 [electric cremation] units across the country, mainly in urban areas, and plans to increase the number to 50 by next year. Anshul Garg displays Mokshda’s Green Cremation System. Yet, the group’s expansion has not been without issues: Garg says Mokshda is facing problems from the “wood mafia” — people illegally cutting down trees to sell for funeral pyres.

“They even go to the extent of threatening our people,” said Garg. “If they (our people) go to install and promote these systems we get threatening calls: ‘You don’t come in our city, don’t put up these systems or we will hunt you.’”

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