Karnataka’s commitment to respecting its rivers and lakes will be tested once again during the Ganesha festivities. Immersing Ganesha idols in water is an important part of these festivities. However, immersing idols made of Plaster of Paris (PoP) in water leaves the water bodies sullied; PoP does not dissolve easily and leaves behind large amounts of toxic chemicals. In a bid to prevent this sullying of water, activists and authorities have been creating public awareness to halt the use of PoP idols for over a decade. With their appeals falling on deaf ears, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) decided in 2014 to ban the manufacture and sale of PoP Ganesha idols. However, PoP idols continue to be manufactured, sold and purchased. Authorities are partly to blame for this as they have allowed this trade to flourish under their noses. While their leniency may have been understandable in the past as manufacturers and sellers of PoP idols pleaded that they had huge stocks to dispose of and that they should be given time to make the transition to eco-friendly idols, this argument is no longer valid. They have had a number of years to make the transition. Additionally, there are now a variety of eco-friendly images — some of these grow into vegetable plants — on sale or are even being distributed for free. Indeed, those making eco-friendly Ganesha idols have made arrangements to have them delivered at home. Customers do not have an excuse to continue buying PoP idols pleading they did not know where to go to buy eco-friendly idols this year. The KSPCB, police and BBMP authorities must show zero tolerance towards sellers and buyers of PoP idols this year.
Interestingly, it is those organising public celebrations of the Ganesha festival who continue to resist the use of eco-friendly idols. Identifying and acting against them will not be difficult as their festivities are in the open. Politicians and BBMP corporators and officials are the main supporters of such pandal festivities. Several of them have pledged to not inaugurate or participate in celebrations where PoP idols are used. Will they keep their promises?
Some have argued that banning PoP idols is interference in matters of faith. This is a baseless argument. Can these people identify religious texts that mandate the use of PoP Ganesha idols? Many have already purchased their PoP Ganeshas. However, it is still not too late for police and the public to act. They must penalise those immersing PoP idols in Bengaluru’s lakes. While fines will not reverse the damage done to our water bodies, strong punishment would serve as a lesson and deter people from immersing polluting idols in the coming years.