Holi scam: Pyre wood meant for poor illegally sold at Mumbai crematoriums

The dead can wait; Holi can’t if you had dropped by at the Shivaji Park Crematorium in Dadar (W) or Chandanwadi Crematorium in Kalbadevi on Monday, you wouldn’t have had any trouble believing this.

Wood being sold for Holi

Piles of wood, meant to be given free of cost for last rites, were sold at a profit in these funeral homes, for Holika dahan the burning of evil on the night before Holi. While the price was Rs 12 for a kilogram at Shivaji Park, Rs 8 per kg was the going rate at Chandanwadi. Incidentally, BMC pays contractors Rs 6 per kg of wood at the end of the month, based on the data of bodies cremated.

Wood being sold for Holi
The scene outside Shivaji Park crematorium on Monday. Workers are seen weighing the wood and then loading them on waiting taxis

On an average, every cremation requires about 300 kg of wood. Dadar resident and active member of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Shrikant Bhoite alleged, “Wood is being sold like this for the past 6-7 years as contractors illegally make profits. The taxpayers’ money is being misused, since BMC commenced the free cremation facility some time ago.”

Wood being sold for Holi

The MNS worker added, “I will complain about this to the mayor and municipal commissioner as such transgression is not possible without the involvement of BMC officials.” The civic body has contracted Tulsidas Premchand and Co, who supply wood for Shivaji Park crematorium.

Wood being sold for Holi

One of the proprietors of the firm, identified as Anand, admitted to MiD DAY about selling of the wood. “We had no option but to sell, otherwise people would have taken the wood forcibly,” he said. Similar were the goings-on at Chandanwadi Crematorium. Shiv Sena leader Pandurang Sakpal said, “The crematorium is run by a private trust, but employees sold the wood the night before Holi.”

Wood being sold for Holi
Wood being sold for Holi at Chandanwadi Crematorium and at Shivaji Park Crematorium on Monday

All BMC-run crematoriums are under the jurisdiction of the civic health department. When contacted, Dr Arun Bamne, BMC executive health officer, said, “We will investigate the matter.” He also claimed that no civic employee was involved in the malpractice and the contractors were at fault. “We pay the wood supplier at the end of every month on the basis of bodies cremated,” he explained.

Green Crematorium
BMC has made a provision of Rs 4.94 crore for ‘Green Crematorium’. The basic idea is to promote piped natural gas (PNG) cremation instead of wood-based ones. The civic body has also set aside Rs 2 crore for beautification of city crematoriums.

Rs 6
The price per kg that BMC pays the contractors who supply wood for last rites

Rs 12
The price per kg that contractors were charging buyers at Shivaji Park crematorium; Rs 8 was the price at Chandanwadi crematorium  

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