Nagpur municipality falters over banning PoP idols

With Ganesh Chaturthi festival around the corner, civic body now proposes ban on immersion of idols in natural water bodies

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Thursday 11 July 2013

After hanging fire for a full three years, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation’s (NMC) proposed ban on the highly polluting plaster of Paris (PoP) idols is nowhere near implementation. Within days of announcing that it has finally framed the bylaws for the ban, the civic body backtracked on July 9 on the plea that according to Section 19 (1) (g) of the Indian Constitution, such a ban can be imposed only by the Central and state governments, not by a civic body. Nagpur is the first city in Maharashtra to have proposed a complete ban on POP idols.

In a desperate bid to save the city’s severely polluted water bodies from further damage, NMC has now proposed a blanket ban on immersion of idols—both clay and POP—in the city’s natural water bodies. However, it is doubtful whether even this protective measure will be implemented effectively this year. With barely two months to go for the immensely popular Ganesh Chaturthi festival, during which an estimated 300,000 POP idols find their way into the city’s 13 lakes and two rivers annually, NMC has just published the draft bylaws for this new measure. Objections have been invited by August 5, following which the finalized draft will have to be sent to the state government. With the 10-day festival slated to start on September 9, it is highly doubtful whether the bylaws will be in place before idols wend their way to the water bodies.

Tough to implement

NMC’s deputy director of health, Milind Ganvir, said he is confident that the ban on immersion of POP idols will be implemented. Asked why the bylaws have been published only now when NMC had been asked by the city bench of the Bombay High Court to frame bylaws way back in September 2012, Ganvir said the process was lengthy. He, however, could not explain how the lengthy procedure of ratification by state government will be completed within a short two months when the mere framing of 10-point bylaws has taken more than 10 months.

NMC’s stance regarding inability to ban POP idols is likely to be challenged in court, said Avantika Chitnis of the Vidarbha Heritage Society, which had filed a petition with the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court for protection of the city’s lakes. “The legal clause that  NMC is proffering as an excuse for not banning POP is highly questionable and will have to be investigated, because the clause states that trade of any kind cannot be banned. But if the civic body can ban plastic bags, why not POP?” she asked. Chitnis further added that NMC had also failed to act on its assurance to court that it will ban the use of toxic paints in its guidelines.

Even if the bylaws are in force in time for the festival, the rule banning immersion of idols in water bodies is unlikely to be implemented, said environment groups. “Last year NMC made available inflatable artificial tanks for immersion at the city’s lakes, but they had the capacity for immersing just 80,000 idols; even this capacity remained underutilized,” said Rajeev Jagtap of the citizens’ group Janmanch. “There is no facility for immersing the more than 1,000 large idols, ranging in size from 10 to 30 feet, that are put up in public places all over the city,” he added.

Chitnis also pointed out that the ban cannot be implemented in view of  political pressure. “All corporators in the city have Ganesh Mandals which install 25-feet high idols, and there is huge public sentiment around the immersion processions,” he said. “There is no way these groups can be stopped from immersing, and once the rules are broken, the common people will follow suit.”

Narendra Dabholkar of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, which has been campaigning against POP idols all over the state, said just a ban on immersion is not sufficient because disposal of idols remains a problem. “When the idols are not immersed, they go into landfills or old stone quarries,” he said, “The only solution is to permit idols to be made only from natural materials, which can then be immersed in artificial tanks, and the mud restored to artisans for reuse.”

NMC’s vacillations on the issue have also hit the idol-manufacturing community in the city hard. Says idol-maker Arun Gaikwad, who works in Chitar Oli in the Itwari area, “Last year the ban on POP idols was ineffective, but we had been told that it would be implemented this year. So this year all artisans are making earthen idols. But now, with no ban, we fear that imported POP idols, which are cheaper, might flood the market and cause us losses.” He also said that the Chitar Oli area lacks enough space to make enough idols to meet the city’s requirements, and the cost and availability of mud, rice husk and other raw material is also a problem. “It is surprising that since June 2011, when the first attempt to ban POP was made, NMC has made no study about our problems,” he said.


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