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Issue 29
, 2010
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Cleanliness is next to Godliness

Anjali Pandey
Source: Toxics Link Website, Date: , 2010

Its time again for trumpeting, masquerading, and shouting slogans imbued in spirituality for it’s the time for festivities— the time for Ganpati Utsav.

The moment is close to all our hearts for we celebrate again the homecoming of lord Ganesha-an embodiment of ‘shubh’ (good luck), to bestow his presence on the earth for all his devotees. Worshipped as goddess of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune the festival celebrates the birth of lord Ganesha.

But in the festivities, there is something pertinent that the human eye overlooks. Ever wondered where does Ganpati Bappa go after immersion? The stress is more on the tangible—the idol. After years of emphasis on the need to acknowledge environment friendly idol immersion there have been various protests by people on the same. The plea to ‘go green’ has come from environmentalists, scientists, and social welfare activists.

Some Facts:

To be able to choose the most appropriate ecosensitive solution it is important that we understand the environmental impacts of these pujas:

  • The biggest environmental threat comes from idol immersion, which is generally made from Plaster of Paris, which pollutes the water bodies. Plaster of Paris is a calcium sulfate hemi-hydrate : (CaSO4, ˝ H2O) derived from gypsum, a calcium sulfate dihydrate (CaSO4 , 2 H2O), by firing this mineral at relatively low temperature and then reducing it to powder. While idols made out of naturally occurring clay ( shaadu in Marathi) dissolve within hours of immersion in water, PoP idols may take anywhere between several months to years to fully dissolve. However, the Central Pollution Control Board issued guidelines for idol immersion on June 2010 which state in Section 2.1 (i) that ‘Idols should be made from natural materials as described in the holy scripts. Use of traditional clay for idol making rather than baked clay, plaster of paris, etc. may be encouraged, allowed and promoted.’
  • Another source of water pollution comes from the paints that are used on the idols. In addition, when chemical paints are used to decorate the idols, these paints contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which seep into the water as the idol dissolves. The guideline again states in section 2.1 (ii) that ‘Painting of Idols should be discouraged. In case idols are to be painted, water soluble and nontoxic natural dyes should be used. Use of toxic and nonbiodegradable chemical dyes for painting idols should be strictly prohibited.’
  • Noise pollution, traffic congestion, and increased consumerism without much emphasis on the environmental hazard cannot be ignored.
  • The waste generated from the non-bioderadable accessories on the idol further add onto the list of pollutants.

In the same regard, Section 2.1 (iii) of the guidelines further suggests that ‘Worship material like flowers, vastras (clothes), decorating material (made of paper and plastic) etc. should be removed before immersion of idols. Biodegradable materials should be collected separately for recycling or composting. Non-biodegradable materials should be collected separately for disposal in sanitary landfills. Clothes may be sent to local orphan house(s).’ With only little emphasis on defining role of state pollution control boards and pollution control boards in section 3 (ii) that ‘SPCB/PCC shall help the local administration in preparing material for mass awareness for the purpose’, it seems that there is less emphasis on tools and types of public awareness medium adopted by the CPCB. 

Of these, some issues can be partially resolved by adopting eco-friendly options. Studies carried out to assess deterioration in water quality due to idol immersion reveal deterioration of water quality in respect of conductivity, bio-chemical oxygen demand and heavy metal concentration. In pursuance to the directions of the Bombay High Court, CPCB evolved the Guidelines for immersion of idols and other puja materials reaching in the water bodies during festival. The guidelines are good to begin with, but the biggest challenge lie in the actual implementation of these guidelines.

It is also the time to look forward to more such pujas of which the most popular being the Durga Puja in West Bengal. Hence, some possible solutions to the problem could be:

  • Immersing the idol in a water tan constructed by the government, instead of directly into natural water bodies.
  • Using only a natural clay idol and immersing it either in the tank or in a bucket of water at home.
  • Reusing the same idol every year.
  • If one is using a PoP idol, simply sprinkling a few drops of water on it as a symbolic immersion and donating the idol to be recycled for the following year.

Its time for festivities and happiness. Lets work towards making these occasions not only joyous and enjoyable for today but also tomorrow and times to come by little thought on what we sow in while we will reap tomorrow!