Reduced to a civic disaster

Meant to showcase tradition, promote national integrity, Ganesha festival has now become an ecological blunder and whimsical indulgence

Reduced to a civic disaster

Ganesha festival is round the corner and Bangaloreans are all set to celebrate it with traditional gaeity and splendour.

For the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), however, it is time to prepare for the massive idol immersion exercise that follows the festivities. BBMP wants to keep the exercise simple and hassle-free, while KSPCB is keen on keeping lakes free from pollution.

Going beyond the annual exercise of fixing idol immersion points and issuing guidelines, the BBMP has a new rule this year: Impose a time limit on the celebration. BBMP Commissioner Rajneesh Goel told Deccan Herald: “There should be a time limit for celebrating Ganesha festival. We are trying to ensure that the celebrations do not go beyond 10-11 days.”

The objective behind restricting the festival celebration period is to reduce garbage that it is likely to be generated. The Palike is also worried about the impact of Ganesha idols, painted with colours containing dangerous chemicals, on the lakes and other water bodies where they will be immersed.

Goel has appealed to the people not to throw pooja materials in lakes and tanks and put them in a dustbin kept near the immersion tanks. He has also urged the public to avoid using Ganesha idols made of plaster of Paris, as it is not biodegradable.

The Palike has also restricted the immersion of the Ganesha idols to only 26 lakes in the City. These include the Ulsoor Lake, Sankey Tank, Yediyur Lake and Saneguruvanahalli Lake.

Timeline for festival

Freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who had conceived the idea of celebrating the festival publicly to mobilise Marathi youth against the British rule, had also set a time limit. The idea then spread across the country. Tilak had said the event should be celebrated from Ganesh Chaturthi, the fourth day of the full moon phase, to the beginning of Pitr Paksha, the next new moon day. It actually means the festival should start exactly on Chaturthi and end within the 11th day from the day of installation of the idol.

Tilak had a reason to set the timeline because, as per the Hindu belief, no pious events should take place for nearly a fortnight during Pitr Paksha, which is observed during the Aashwija (Aashwin) month of the lunar calendar beginning from the new moon day. The Hindu faith reserves the first fortnight of Aashwija to remember the dead and do good deeds in their memory.

In Bangalore, however, not many seem to know about Pitra Paksha. People install Ganesha idols any day at any point of time, even during Pitra Paksha. Festivities go on for two to three months. The faithful who know about the restrictions do not raise their voice fearing a backlash.

For the record, Tilak’s original plan to use the Ganesha festival against the British, has today become a symbol of unity. His idea of bringing out Ganesha idols from the closed four walls to the streets has taken the shape of a national fervour and has become a pan-India festival. Post-liberalisation, the celebration has also given an opportunity for different sections of society to display their riches. Bangalore is no exception where the festival fervour reaches a high pitch. In keeping with the national trend, the City celebrates the event in a big way where various cultural events are held. But most of the organisers are ignorant of Tilak’s guidelines.

The eco-challenge

Ganesh Chaturthi, which traditionally encouraged people to use eco-friendly materials, including clay for the idol and flowers and leaves to perform poojas, has transformed into an environmental threat over the years. Despite creating awareness, according to Karnataka State Pollution Control Board  (KSPCB), only 48 per cent of people use eco-friendly idols.  

S Nanda Kumar, senior environment officer, KSPCB, says the Board does not have any authority to control the production and sale of Ganesha idols, but can only create awareness about the possible harm caused to the environment by the colours used to paint them.

“KSPCB has been conducting workshops with NGOs, resident welfare associations and schoolchildren and it has been successful; but there is a need for a larger approach and change in the mindset of the public, too,” he adds.

A direct environmental threat is immersion of idols, made of plaster of Paris and painted with harmful colours, in the lakes. It is not just colours, but also the decoration materials including plastic, that are dumped in the immersion tanks without a second thought, he said.

A scientist at the KSPCB says this year, the pollution levels may increase in lakes due to the insufficient rain, as rainwater acts as a natural purifier. “If the paint in the idols contains iron or zinc, they will act as micronutrients which is good for the water body.  But if the colours contain heavy metals like copper, cadmium and lead, this may prove harmful for the eco-system in the lake. This can easily enter the food chain,” he explains.

According to a study taken up by KSPCB to check the quality of water in lakes before and after the festival, it was found that TDS (total dissolved solids), which is the measure of the combined content of all inorganic and organic substances contained in a liquid, has been increasing over the years.

Although lead does not easily dissolve in lake water, it can still enter the food chain through fish in the lake or the cow that grazes on the lakebed or even through the greens grown near the water body. Since there is no control on the production of idols, it is only awareness and a change in people’s attitude that can save the lakes in the City.

Demand for eco-friendly idols

The Craft Council of Karnataka in Malleswaram has been selling eco-friendly idols made of clay for many years. N Shashidhar, president of the Council, says the demand for eco-friendly idols has been increasing over the years, but there is also the tendency among devotees to buy idols made of plaster of Paris as they look better.

“It is also important to choose small idols which are easier to immerse. This year, with the garbage problem gripping the City, there should be a larger awareness to use less pooja materials,” he notes.

R Ullaskar Dey, a member of the Council, says since there is no sure market for eco-friendly idols, artisans are wary about making them.

“Artisans face many health hazards while making colourful idols. Handling paint causes rashes and boils on their skin. Spray painting is not safe either, because they don’t use masks. They work in small shacks which do not have proper ventilation,” he adds.

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