Ganesh Chaturthi: toxic immersion

Published: Monday 23 September 2013


The 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival that ended this week has once again brought to limelight the environmental hazards of immersing idols of gods and goddesses in our lakes and rivers as authorities do little to check the problem
Author: Aparna Pallavi
Every year in Maharashtra, an estimated 150 million Ganesh idols are immersed in lakes, rivers and the sea during the 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival. A bulk of these idols are made of non-biodegradable plaster of Paris (PoP) and painted with toxic chemical colours, which endanger aquatic life. Studies by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and scientists show a sharp rise in content of heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium in waterbodies following idol immersions during Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja festivals. Acidity and biological oxygen demand of water are also found to rise sharply.
Sale of clay idols is on the rise, but switching completely to clay is not easy
Author: Aparna Pallavi
Subhash Salvi picks up an ornate arm from a carefully stacked pile and proceeds to shave off the extra clay with great dexterity. He is an artisan in a workshop in Pen tehsil in Maharashtra’s Pune district. “An expert craftsman can make about 12 clay idols measuring 14 to 18 inches in a day,” he says, as his practiced hands work at attaching the arm to the idol on his revolving table. “I earn about Rs 60 for every idol this size.”
Artisan groups say PoP is made from naturally occurring substance and does not the affect the environment; activists say its impact is long-term
Author: Aparna Pallavi
There have been efforts to ban sale of plaster of Paris (PoP) idols for Ganesh Chaturthi festival in the past, but these have proved futile. The biggest hurdle in implementing such a ban is the fact that there is no definitive and comprehensive scientific study on the impact of PoP on the environment. Studies on the impact of idol immersions carried out in places like Bhopal, Jabalpur and Bengaluru show several significant impacts like steep rise in concentration of heavy metals, dissolved solids, and acid content, and a drop in dissolved oxygen.
Courts fail to give clear-cut answers
Author: Aparna Pallav
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.
State’s carrot and stick policy makes ban effective
Author: Aparna Pallav
Goa is the only state in the country where a total ban on PoP idols has not met with a hostile reaction from the artisan community. The ban, imposed by the state&ls’s Department of Science, Technology and Environment under Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act 1986, bans the manufacture, stocking, transport, display and sale of PoP idols, and has penal provisions. Offenders also stand to face cancellation of licences for their establishments. The ban is renewable annually and has been in force for five years now.



Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.