Thimphu Thromde plans to do away with traditional pyres
The authority is planning to set up a total of 10 electric incinerators at Hejo cremation ground
Despite very little advocacy and awareness on the use of the electric incinerator, Thimphu Thromde is planning to set up six more incinerators at Hejo cremation ground making it a total of 10, and completely stop traditional cremation.
The Chief Environment Officer of Thimphu Thromde, Yeshi Wangdi
said that the authorities have found the electric incinerator best for the country’s environment and it is already in the master plan.
He added that the Thromde is planning to install incinerators in the two cremation grounds in Thimphu. However, the plan will need time for implementation due to budget constraints.
Of the four electric incinerators installed in Hejo as of now, two are being used to burn bodies. The caretaker of Hejo cremation, Purna said that among the four incinerators, one broke down and the coil needs to be replaced. “The other one is yet to be set up because we are not trained to operate it.”
While the modern incinerator has been in the country since 1997, people are still cremating in traditional pyres. Those familiar with this new alternative are still more comfortable following the old way of cremating while many others hardly know about the incinerator.
However, the old diesel incinerator was replaced by an electric one in 2013 because the former resulted in cases of half-burnt bodies and other complications.
Currently, the Hejo cremation ground sees around 18-20 funerals weekly.
Aum Pem, a Thimphu resident, who was at Hejo to cremate a relative, said that though the project is environment friendly, people are not comfortable using it. “It may be quick and convenient but I would always prefer to burn the body in the traditional way.”
Similarly, Tobgay, a visitor at the site, said, in the Bhutanese context a practice of collecting parts of human cranium from the ashes after the body is burnt exists but the electric incinerator burns up almost all parts of the body. “It will have a major impact on our rich culture and traditions,” he added.
Some people think the ashes collected from the incinerator can be used to follow the customary procedures.
Interestingly, an old timer, 62 year old Ap Kipchu feels that the use of incinerator is environment friendly since the machine does not require the use of wood. “Less waste will be generated and it is way faster than the traditional method. Even if the bodies are burnt using the machine, the funeral rites are conducted in the same manner.”
A private company employee, Tshering Yangden said she heard that incinerators are for bodies that are abandoned. She feels they are used to take care of unclaimed corpses and follow up their last rites. “For this reason, I never suggest my friends and relatives to use the incinerator.”
Additionally, the caretaker of Hejo cremation ground said that about 40-50 unclaimed dead bodies have been burnt using electric incinerator till now.
Yeshi Wangdi said advocating people about the benefits of wood intensive cremation remained unsuccessful. “There is discrimination against those using the incinerator, even though all groups of people use it.”
Several natives of Thimphu are still not familiar with the modern incinerator. Kinley Tshering, a young graduate was surprised when he heard about the incinerator. “I have never seen or heard of it. I thought it was a room heating appliance,” he said adding that the country is definitely not ready to adapt to this new substitute.
Purna said it has been four months since the incinerator was last used. “As per records, most people availing the electric incinerators are those who have problems getting wood permit and others who are in haste,” he added, “The rest are still hesitant to use the modern incinerator.”
The incinerators at Hejo were purchased from Bangkok, Thailand at US$ 75,300 by the government excluding the expenditure for shipping, transportation, charges for fitting and installation.