The demand for wood for cremation has increased manifold due to a surge in the number of deaths across India. Each funeral pyre requires about 4-5 quintals of wood. The price of pyre wood has soared from Rs 400-500 for about 100 kg to Rs 2,000-2,500 in some States.
At an average, one needs to pay Rs 10,000-12,000 for wood for cremation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Crematorium operators say that contractors are charging more for wood, and contractors say that suppliers or distributors have increased the prices due to shortage of labourers for chopping the wood during the lockdown and curbs.
The shortage of wood is fuelling black market and price increases.
According to a United Nation survey, 400-500 kg of wood is required to cremate a body and 50 to 60 million trees are burned for cremation every year in India. Another study by IIT Kanpur says that only 216 kg of wood is needed.
The price of wood has increased five to six times at Garhmukteshwar Ghat at the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, due to the increased number of deaths these days.
The management of Garhmukteshwar Ghat said that they have exhausted all stock of wood.
“With an increase in the number of bodies coming in, the requirement for wood has also been increased. We need thicker wood for the pyre to burn properly. But all we are getting are thin logs,” he said, adding that there is a huge shortage of labour for chopping trees due to lockdown in the State.
Generally, mango, eucalyptus, sakhauri trees are used for pyre wood. Poor families invariably go for a mix of dry and wet wood which cost 250-300 per quintals. Rich families sometimes also prefer sandalwood. The average daily funeral figures in pre-Covid times, at Ghats Garhmukteshwar were 10-15 which has now rises to 30-35.
“In Varanasi’s Manikarnika Ghat, the price of pyre wood has increased from Rs 300-350 per quintal to Rs 1,000-1,500 per quintal as suppliers are not able to meet the demands these days,” says Pandit Rajan Mishra of Varanasi Ghat. Currently, 70-90 quintals of wood are now being used daily at Manikarnika Ghat.
Padam Shree awardee Jitender Singh Shunty, who runs Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal trust, which runs a crematorium in Delhi, said that wood contractors are finding it difficult to manage the demand and supply due to high Covid deaths. His crematorium is charging Rs 600 per quintal and most of the wood comes from Uttar Pradesh.