The period of September to November sees the festivals of Dussehra, Diwali and Chhath Puja come upon us in quick succession. Pujas are offered, there is great celebration, the visiting Gods and Goddesses are bid adieu and sent back to their heavenly abode via the waters of Yamuna! The problem with our merriment comes to the fore only after there appears a visible rise in pollution in the river. The river shore is inundated with worship material, water quality worsens and fish found dead in lower reaches.
In this age of wide environment consciousness, do we have no laws which can ensure a safe and eco-friendly manner of disposal of idols and offerings? Can our rituals not confirm with the welfare of the revered river as well?
Environmentalists say that courts and the government have taken note of this issue and legislations are in place; the problem remains with the implementation.
Rajiv Betne of NGO Toxics Link informs us, “In 2010, the Ministry of Environment and Forests came up with guidelines that idols should be made of traditional clay only and not baked clay or Plaster of Paris; painting them with chemical paints is to be prohibited and puja committees and the public should be told to take away all decorative items and offerings before immersion.
“The guidelines also say that ghats for puja and immersions should be notified by the authorities before hand and synthetic liners should be placed to catch the remains. But frankly, I have never seen implementation of any of these. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) is also too understaffed to take care of it. You cannot inspect every idol being made and every turn of the Yamuna where idols are immersed with just a handful of staff.”
Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan adds, “Firstly, I have always wondered how people immerse idols of their revered gods and goddesses in a drain like Yamuna. However, when they do, it creates pollution of unimaginable magnitude. In September 2009, our NGO collected garbage from just one point – the Nizamuddin bridge – after Ganesh Chaturthi and Dussehra. It amounted to 2010 kilos of polybags, paper, cloth, glass, earthen pots and organic waste, 300 paintings and 250 idols. Imagine the amount of garbage created down the length of Yamuna.”
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People concurs, “Besides the guidelines by the Ministry, we also have the Water Act, 1974, under which authorities can fine people for dropping pollutants into Yamuna. I have never heard of anyone being challaned in this regard. Clearly, the authorities are either not doing their job or are too scared to offend religious feelings.”
When Metrolife spoke to Dr Anil Kumar, Director, DPCC, he defended his organisation, “These allegations are untrue. This year, we did post-Dussehra cleaning up at four ghats – Kalindi Kunj, Qudsia Ghat, Geeta Colony and Jagatpuri. We also coordinated with different puja committees to ensure that they do immersions at these ghats only. We are doing our best to ensure that Yamuna is not harmed.”
One does wonder, however, if cleaning up is being done at the 1000 ghats designated for Chhath puja by the Delhi government this year. Clearly, keeping Yamuna clean is not an easy task.