Shocking Pollution during the Ganesh Festival
Yesterday was an important day. It was Anant Chaturthi the culmination of a ten-day long Ganesh Festival, one of the most important festivals of western India. It was a day of great joyousness and celebration…but it has an ugly side. The environmental damage it causes. Thousands of idols made from harmful materials like plaster of paris and toxic metals, coated with deadly paints containing mercury, cadmium, lead and carbon enter our water bodies. These idols, some of them gigantic in size, are immersed in lakes, rivers and the sea.
Just Mumbai’s sea takes in about 1.5 lakh (1 lakh = 100,000) idols every year! Is it any wonder then then oxygen levels in the water bodies fall by about 50 per cent immediately after the 10-day Ganeshutsav festival?
Not many care
Although there are organisations working towards creating awareness about the benefits of using eco-friendly idols and state governments do issue ‘guidelines’ about immersions, not much is happening on the ground. Although there are specially prepared tanks for immersions, people don’t prefer to use these, and few are interested in eco-friendly idols. It was heartening to see Harsha actually try and find out the situation on the ground. He trudged four hours in the hot sun in Pune to find out if people were using eco-friendly idols. His findings:
As I continued my search in the streets of Pune, I came across many idols-made of materials as varied as PoP, Silver, Tin Foil and Thermocol, but not the green Ganesha. That’s what I was looking for..an idol made of clay and a pandal that used eco-friendly materials…I must have walked for at least 20 km, clicking hundreds of pix on the way. I could not find a single idol made of clay, nor a pandal which didn’t use the papi materials – PoP and Thermocol.
Well, finally he did find a green pandal, but no idol. This then is the reality. No one cares. And we are not just talking of the masses here. I have tried to convince several people I know and while they agreed with me in theory, none of them actually went and bought an eco-friendly idol. In fact one lady told me point blank: When there is a law against it we’ll do it! This even though they clearly see the water bodies around them getting polluted. I don’t believe this is due to religious reasons, but due to apathy and lack of civic sense.
What actually happens?
Here are the results of a scientific study done on a body of water in Andhra Pradesh, the Hussainsagar Lake. After examining the water before and after immersion the scientists found that the concentration of substances like calcium, magnesium, molybdenum and silicon concentrations increased significantly. Also, it was found that concentrations of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury had increased. Metals like lead and mercury are particularly worrisome as they are dangerous to health and can damage the heart, kidneys, liver, circulatory system and central nervous system.
Besides polluting the water, they reach humans via the food chain, when humans consume fish and other sea-food. If the fish survive that is! Because hundreds of fish are found dead after the immersions.
The picture on the right is of a beach right after an immersion and that is what the tide has brought in. The site from where I took the photo has other very vivid pictures…if you want to see them just click on the picture.
If people don’t listen, we need the laws
The problem is that politicians don’t want to take tough action as they are afraid of upsetting the public as this is a religious issue. But I think it isn’t. Traditionally, we used mud idols and natural colours. These polluting idols are a modern invention and nothing to do with religion!
No one is banning immersion. Or denouncing it. To put in place laws to make it compulsory to make idols out of an eco-friendly material should not hurt religious sentiment. All we will be doing is going back to the way the festival was traditionally celebrated. An information campaign to this effect will go a long way in educating those who think that using poisonous materials are what God commanded or that this was how it was traditionally done. I am sure that a public information campaign which enumerates the amount of life that is destroyed will impact a lot of people as quite a few Hindus are vegetarians who are against killing of animals even for food.
I wonder if it is a powerful lobby of businessmen and those in the trade of manufacturing and selling these poisonous idols who are making the politicians drag their feet on this one. Because in this case it is only the politicians who can help us – with laws.
Update: I am adding this link which talks of the dangers to flora and fauna because the idols don’t dissolve. They go to the river bed and affect the plant life. I thought this was pretty obvious and had therefore not added this link before but from some comments I realise that people are not aware of this fact.
(Both pics have been linked to the originals)