Thimphu city has recently installed three electrical incinerators at the Hejo cremation ground in March. There are now four electrical incinerators in the ground.
The purchase of the incinerators, at USD 75,300 from Bangkok, Thailand, was funded by the Royal Government of Bhutan, excluding the expenditure for shipping, transportation, charges for fitting and installation.
Chief Environment Officer, Thimphu Thromde, Tshering Penjor, said, “The use of electrical incinerator over the conventional way of burning dead bodies will have advantages, like conservation of environment, as well as economical advantage.”
He said the use of incinerators will not hamper any religious rituals. In fact, cremation rituals following the religious norms can be performed exactly like it is done in the conventional method. However, the cost of the burning bodies will be lesser by 3-4 times than the amount spent on wood and other materials in the conventional way.
According to the Chief Environment Officer, the electrical incinerators do not require the use of wood, ultimately saving 1.5 to 2 metric cubes of wood per day, and release filtered or less smoke into the atmosphere. This will prevent air pollution.
In addition, the amount of waste generated from the electrical incinerator will be only up to 1.5 kg, whereas conventional method can generate about 10-12 kg while burning one dead body. Therefore, there will be less waste and ash particles dumped into the river. Lesser generation of wastes will save the river from water pollution and prevent the harm the habitats down the river.
The conventional method also carries health hazards due to excessive heat release, approximately about 800 degree Celsius of heat. While using the electrical incinerator, the machine is maintained at lower degree Celsius until the necessary religious ritual gets over and then the incinerators are fired up.
However, the people in general have not warmed up to the idea of having a body cremated using the incinerator. A freelance guide, Pema Dendup, said as a Buddhist country, the use of electrical incinerator in burning the dead body will degrade Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions.
A private company employee, Pema Yangki, said, “Though it may be easy to burn the dead bodies by means of using electrical incinerator, I would always prefer to burn it following our traditional ways.”
Similarly, Chenzom, 64, said, “Why should we use electrical incinerator for cremation, while we have enough forest cover and wood to be use?” She further said she would never suggest her family, friends and relatives to opt for such methods.
The Chief Environment Officer said the installation of electrical incinerators is a pilot project, mainly to gain the public interest. He said the public should take interest in using the machine as it is environment friendly.
Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk, Deputy Chief of Cultural Property in the Department of Culture said, “Generally in the religious context it will have a major impact on our culture and traditions”.
“In our culture and tradition, there is a system of collecting the parts of human skulls from the burned out ashes but the use of electrical incinerator burns out almost all the parts of death body, so people may not be able to collect the required thing and be able to follow the procedures like what we do in conventional way,” he said.