Post Durga Puja immersions choke Yamuna despite green calls


Despite calls from green activists, the scene at the river Yamuna here was that of a toxic harvest after hundreds of idols of goddess Durga were immersed in it at the end of the Durga Puja festival.

Over 500 idols were Monday immersed in the river, especially at two places - Gita Ghat in north Delhi and Kalindi Kunj in south Delhi. In the process, tonnes of lead-based toxic paints and other chemicals, flowers, leaves, coconut husks and clothes from religious rituals have been left behind in the water that is already highly polluted.
Although green activists and the Delhi government had for months mounted pressure on puja organisers to try keeping the ritual as eco-friendly as possible, action and enforcement was still lax.

Delhi Environment Secretary and Delhi Pollution Control Committee chairman Dharmesh told IANS that they had called on all organising committees and instructed them to abide by “certain environment norms”. He said: “They had agreed and had promised to abide by the notice."

“There will be no specific study to assess the pollution now. However, we are planning to compare the monthly monitoring evaluations conducted by the Jal Board,” he added.
To cause minimum damage to the Yamuna, the Delhi High Court had earlier asked the puja committees to dig “recycling pits away from the river to dispose the material used at the time of immersion”.

“This was hardly followed. There was very less enforcement or action taken to ensure the immersions didn't clog the river,” said Vimlendu Jha who heads the NGO 'Swecha - We for Change'.

Green activists like Jha and Manoj Mishra who heads the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (Let Yamuna Live campaign) feel the river has become a “toxic drain” yet again.
Mishra pointed out that the river had swelled and flooded as a result of the rains earlier this month and the flow had ensured self-cleaning.

“The state till Ashtami (the eighth day of the Navarati festival observed Saturday) was fine but by yesterday and even today the river was restored to its former self - a sewage drain. Although the city's major drains also link to the river, the immersions contributed a great deal to this,” Mishra told IANS.

Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan members and volunteers had held a vigil on the riverbanks since Sep 1 which will end Wednesday.

“We could hardly stand and watch immersions on Monday because the stench was unbearable,” Mishra said.

Meanwhile, Jha conceded that steps taken by communities to go green could have had an impact. “But there is still no formal assessment conducted by government bodies and no concrete steps to ensure that this is maintained,” he said.
Several puja committees tried keeping the river clean this time.

For example, the 100-year-old Durga Puja Pandal at Kashmere Gate went green. “To make the idols we used chalk clay and vegetable dyes, both of which dissolve in water. Environment was foremost on our mind. The flowers collected over the five days of puja were donated to an NGO to make perfumes,” said Dipayan Mazumdar, vice-president of the Kashmere Gate Puja Samiti.

The heavy clothes and decorations used for decorating the idols of the goddess were removed before immersion so that they could be recycled.
Artisan Manik Pal from Krishnanagar in West Bengal, who had been camping in New Delhi for the past one month, said he had crafted 16 environment-friendly idols this season.
“All the idols I made were eco-friendly with river clay all the way from Punjab and West Bengal and used natural dyes free of chemicals. Both dissolve in water,” Pal said.

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