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At Vaikunth crematorium, no kerosene to light pyre

Mourning kin of the dead forced to make last-minute arrangements for kerosene as contractor appointed to sell fuel at city's best-known crematorium says there's been no supply from government for past 8 years

A visit to a crematorium is an unhappy event in anyone's life, but for relatives and friends of the dead the experience is made more painful at the Vaikunth Smashan Bhoomi because there is not a drop of kerosene to be found there to conduct the last rites.

The Vaikunth Smashan Bhoomi in Navi Peth; a board on a godown at the crematorium gives the rates for various items like wood required for a traditional funeral, but does not mention kerosene that is also supposed to be available for sale.


There has been no supply of kerosene by the government for the past eight years at the city's oldest and best-known crematorium, according to Dhananjay Kale, the contractor appointed to sell wood and fuel at Vaikunth.
 
"We have no other alternative but to turn people away and ask them to procure the fuel themselves," he said.

This situation leads to last-minute running around for people as they have to quickly procure the rarely available fuel from outside or buy diesel instead. All this results in a lot of confusion and irritation during funerals.

Although the electric crematorium is now in wide use, a few people still go for the traditional practice of consigning the body of the dead to flames on a pyre for religious reasons.

The crematorium has two wakhars (godowns) where the contractor sells wood and kerosene.

People have to first book a pyre and are then directed to the godown, from where they are turned away. There are about 55 funerals everyday at Vaikunth, several of which are conducted traditionally.

Ganesh Shelar (40), whose mother passed away a few days ago, said that he spent two whole hours looking for kerosene and dry wood at Vaikunth.
 
"The contractor told me kerosene is unavailable, which is when I got frantic since it is not commonly and legally sold. I had to buy diesel from a fuel station to finish the last rites," said Shelar.

Damp logs of wood
Another visitor to the crematorium said that as the logs of wood were damp, this did not allow the body to burn completely, which was disrespectful towards the dead.

"The bones are still not burnt, which is revolting," he said. "Why do they call it a famous crematorium when this is the state of affairs?"

Around eight years ago, Vaikunth used to receive 200 to 300 litres of kerosene every month, which was then sold at the prevailing market rate.

The contractor Kale, who was sitting at one of the godowns yesterday, acknowledged that people were facing a grave problem but said he was helpless as nothing had been done even after they had contacted the district supply office and asked for resumption of kerosene supply.

On the issue of damp wood, Kale said the godowns were in a dilapidated condition, which plpays havoc with wood quality. "The roofs leak and there is no extra open space to store the wood.

We wrote to the sanitary inspector this February pointing to the civil work required, but to no avail," he said.

A rate board on the godown at the Vaikunth Smashan Bhoomi does not even mention kerosene; a godown with wood for sale


PMC Sanitary Inspector Subhash Tonde denied having received any letter from the contractor regarding the issue.

"We would have immediately taken cognisance of the issue had we been informed," he said.

Food Supply Officer for the city Dnyaneshwar Jawanjal said that the primary responsibility of procuring the fuel lay with the contractor.
 
"I will, however, look into the issue and immediately take corrective measures," he said.

Catch-22 situation
Compunding the problem for mourners at the Vaikunth crematorium is the fact that kerosene can not be legally bought in the open market.

Only ration card holders who do not have a gas connection at home are eligible to receive a certain supply of kerosene from the government. 

Another difficulty is that it is not easy to purchase loose petrol or diesel, which could be an alternative to kerosene.
 
Carrying petrol and diesel or any other fuel openly in a container is also an offence under the Indian Explosives (Ammendment) Act 1974 and the Inflammable Substances Act 1952.

As a result, petrol pump owners are also reluctant to sell loose petrol or diesel and often refuse to fill bottles or cans. Many pumps have put up boards saying fuel will not be sold in bottles or cans.

Rs 9.75
The per-litre market price of kerosene
Rs 42
The per-litre market price of diesel

3 litres
The average kerosene quantity required for a body to be completely cremated

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