In Ludhiana, mourners shell out more money for cremations as price of LPG cylinder skyrockets

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The Ramgarhia crematorium in Ludhiana. Gurmeet Singh

In Ludhiana, the skyrocketing price of commercial LPG cylinders has resulted in a steep increase in charges at gas crematoriums, with families of Covid victims forced to shell out up to Rs 6,000 for one funeral.

Ludhiana has two gas crematoriums — one opposite the military complex at Dholewal run by Ramgarhia Educational Council, and the Swami Vivekanand Swarg Ashram Shamshan Ghat at Model Town Extension. Before the pandemic, Ludhiana’s gas crematoriums were largely dysfunctional and were made operational only after Covid-19 cases started spiking in the city.

Most families prefer wood cremations due to its lower cost.

While the crematorium at Dholewal has three operational chambers, the one at Model Town Extension has two chambers. Each chamber consumes four LPG cylinders (weighing 19 kg each) to begin operations and two bodies can be cremated using them.

Last year, the Ludhiana administration was providing the crematoriums with LPG cylinders free of cost. However, with each cylinder currently costing Rs 1,600-1,700, the crematorium managements are now charging Rs 4,500-6,000 per body for the cremation.

At present, with 14-15 bodies being cremated daily, the crematoriums are consuming 28-30 cylinders daily, costing Rs 50,000-60,000 a day for crematorium management bodies. Each body’s cremation takes 40-45 minutes on an average.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Ranjodh Singh, president, Ramgarhia Educational Council, which manages the Dholewal crematorium, said that they were charging Rs 6,000 for LPG cremations for each body including cost of priest/granthi services, PPE kits worn by helpers while shifting bodies, sanitizing chambers before and after each cremation and gas cylinders.

“We have no other option because there’s a limit to which we can do charity. We do not take money from very poor families but from those who can afford, we do take it. Each body consumes at least 2 cylinders and depending on body weight, it even takes 3 sometimes,” he said.

“During first wave of the pandemic, we were getting free cylinders from the municipal corporation and we were not charging anything from Covid victims but they (the corporation) stopped this supply in September 2020 as cases started decreasing. Now, we are buying cylinders on our own… The government should resume supply of cylinders to reduce the burden on families,” he said.

Anil Bharti, president, Swami Vivekanand Swarg Ashram crematorium, said that their service was running ‘round the clock with 14-15 bodies being cremated on a daily basis. “We are procuring cylinders on our own and charging Rs 4,500 for each body if family wants gas cremation. We have to charge them because cylinders are costly,” he said.

Ludhiana Municipal Corporation secretary J S Sekhon said that they started providing crematoriums LPG cylinders free of cost last year in coordination with the District Food and Civil Supplies (DFSC) Department during first wave of the pandemic but then the supply was discontinued.

“Till I had the charge to coordinate with crematoriums, we were providing them free LPG cylinders for Covid victims but I have no idea why the supply was discontinued later,” said Sekhon.

Swati Tiwana, joint commissioner of the corporation and nodal officer of the cremation management cell recently formed for Covid victims by Ludhiana district administration, said, “Gas cremations are costlier because of cost of gas cylinders and it is not possible for the administration to provide free cylinders for all Covid victims. However, administration is helping very poor families on a case to case basis.”

Meanwhile, Punjab Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu, who is also the Ludhiana West MLA, said, “Our department has little role to play here. Ludhiana administration should see if they can provide free cylinders to crematoriums or not.”

Ludhiana district has reported the most Covid-19 cases (58,788) and deaths (1,431) in Punjab since the pandemic began. Currently, there are 10,309 active cases in the district.

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