Confusion prevails on who can ban PoP idols

Courts fail to give clear-cut answers

By Aparna Pallavi
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Which agency is equipped to ban substances harmful to the environment? A look at the history of the legal initiatives in this direction shows there are no clear answers.

In July this year, Nagpur city’s three-year long effort to ban idols made of plaster of Paris (PoP) within city limits fizzled out when associations took the plea that under Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution, a civic body is not empowered to ban any kind of trade and that only the state and Central governments are empowered to do so.

Earlier this year, the National Green Tribunal ruled that even a state government cannot ban PoP idols.

Following the Central Pollution Control Board’s 2010 guidelines, which clearly state that idols should only be made from natural materials like paper pulp or clay and painted with natural colours, the Gujarat government issued an order on January 23 this year, banning both PoP idols and chemical colours within the state.

However, groups of idol-makers in the state challenged the ban in court. On May 9 this year, the National Green Tribunal's principal bench in Delhi ruled that the Gujarat government does not have the power to impose a ban on PoP idols under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act 1986, since only the Central government can issue orders under the said Act.

However, state governments can impose a ban under different sections of the Water Act 1974, said NGT. It also observed that despite there being several observations to the effect that PoP makes water alkaline and may impact aquatic life, there is no scientific information on the subject (see: How Harmful is POP?) and called upon state pollution control boards to set up expert committees to study the environment impact of PoP.

Goa, however, has banned PoP idols under Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act (See: How Goa banned PoP idols)

Activists argue that a vital water pollution-related issue is being sidelined country-wide because of legal confusion. “What is apparent is that there is no political will on the part of governments to tackle the problem, since it pertains to religious sentiments,” says Avinash Patil of Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, an NGO fighting to root out superstition and associated rituals.

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  • I submitted to Chief Justice

    I submitted to Chief Justice of India -- Request to order ÔÇ£stop idols immersions in water bodiesÔÇØ

    Government of India and state governments are spending thousands of crores of rupees on cleaning up of water bodies all over the country, which is a futile effort as at the same time these water bodies are polluted/filled with different activities.

    In recent years in addition to sewage, industrial effluents, agriculture polluted rainwater runoffs, rubbles; idols immersion is creating an entirely different problem to water bodies. With the conversion of religious festivals a platform for political survival and a way of earning wealth, environment has taken the backseat. Under this modern pseudo culture the festivals have taken the new twists like taking idols in procession and immersing water bodies. This system is causing the following environmental problems:

    ÔÇó Air pollution [during the festival period, procession period and manufacturing of the basic materials used in the preparation of idols and thus wasting of that much natural resources]

    ÔÇó Noise pollution [during the festival period and procession period]

    ÔÇó Waste pollution [during the festival period and procession period]

    ÔÇó Water pollution [with the idols immersion]

    ÔÇó Destruction of roads and affecting the bunds of water bodies with the physical stress with heavy vehicle movements and heavy cranes used in immersion process

    ÔÇó Filling up of water bodies causing reduction in water holding capacity of water bodies and thus helping to cause flooding of low lying areas in heavy rains ÔÇô causing innumerable problems to people living in low lying areas

    The number of idols entering the water bodies is increasing at an alarming rate with the political culture & wealth culture entering in to the festival culture. It is not stopped with number but also increasing the height of the idols.

    In some parts of the country the Plaster of Paris [POP] is used in the preparation of idols. Some are using black soil from the agriculture fields making them infertile over a period of time. In Kolkata area Durgamata idols are made with biodegradable material like bamboos, cloths with mud proofing and natural colours. Another festival is Ganesh Chatudhi. Traditionally these were celebrated in the houses and now in addition entered the streets.

    After the pooja the leaves, flowers, fruits are given to animal as they contain medicinal value but now they are spreading on to roads, water bodies.
    The Lord Ganesha, is considered as the remover of all obstacles, deserves the immersion ceremony, with Devotion, Purity & Reverence, which are the essentials of any religion, and cannot be adjudged by the size, shape and flashiness of the idols. A real Vedantin is an idol servant of humanity, contributing something to the ecological balance of the physical world. The need and importance regarding the use of eco-friendly materials and colours, restricting the number and size of the idols and having immersion ceremony in the serene atmosphere and the surroundings, cannot be over emphasized.

    In this connection courts have giving certain directions but governments are not acting in the right direction instead collaborating with the committees that are involved in the damaging water bodies on the name of religious festival. Let me give my own experience as an environmentalist in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh.

    ÔÇó The HonÔÇÖble AP High Court in its order dated 15-6-2001 in W.P.No. 21495 of 1998 and others have made the observation ÔÇ£The State and other Salutatory Authorities have not acted upon the report of one Man Commission headed by HonÔÇÖble Sri Justice M. Krishna Rao, constituted in 1985 ÔÇô namely ÔÇ£Hence a notification should be issued by the Government that no Idol should be prepared, which is more than three feet in heightÔÇØ. It is unfortunate that official respondents had failed to or neglected to perform their statutory duties in this regard and the state has failed to act in terms of the recommendations of the various committees set up.

    ÔÇó Referring to the guidelines issued by West Bengal Pollution Control Board, with regard to maintenance and cleanliness of the water in River Ganga, directed that the respondents must follow the said guidelines and / or other stricter measures having regard to the fact that in twin cities of Hyderabad & Secunderabad, Idols are immersed in lakes and not rivers like Ganga.

    ÔÇó On this Andhra Pradesh Government issued a G.O.Rt.No.233 of 27-7-2001 of Department of Environment, Forest, Science & Technology wherein it merely stated ÔÇ£Reduce the size of the idolsÔÇØ. As a result nothing has changed and every other year people are approaching the HonÔÇÖble High Court. Same is the case this year also. The court directed again 2001 judgment only.

    ÔÇó This year, around one lakh big idols beyond 5 feet height were installed all over the city road sides in addition to few lakh household small idols. That means thousands of tons of POP is entering the water bodies every year, more particularly in Hussainsagar Lake in the heart of the city built in 1561. The bund is getting physical stress with the heavy trucks used in carrying idols and heavy cranes used for immersion.

    This is the case every year all over India. How to stop this ecological destruction?


    We herewith appeal HonÔÇÖble Chief Justice of India to look in to the seriousness of the matter and direct the governments, both Central & States, the following three points if your good offices consider they are appropriate to protect the environment in general and water bodies more specifically:

    ÔÇó Stop dumping of idols in water bodies independent of size;

    ÔÇó Idols should not be more than 3 feet in height and they could be immersed in cement ponds specially built for the immersion purpose with pure water all around the city ÔÇô at present the idols are immersed in sewage water;

    ÔÇó Encourage community celebrations at few selected areas around the cities that help the community participation similar to Ramallah Maidan Ravana effigy burning during Deepavali festival without affecting the religious sentiments by the above two orders. Here, they could use bigger idols made of biodegradable material ÔÇô like Ravana effigy, using bamboos, cloth and mud coating, natural colours.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    Convenor, Forum for a Sustainable Environment
    Formerly Chief Technical Advisor ÔÇô WMO/UN & Expert ÔÇô FAO/UN

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