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Celebrate Ganesh festival by taking care of environment

Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) has filed the petition, requesting to prohibit paper maché Ganesh idols, which are being sold as eco-friendly idols. They believe that the Ganesh idols prepared from 10 kg of paper pulp pollute 1,000 litres of water. The government is encouraging Ganesh idols which are made of paper pulp without conducting any research. HJS believes that the claims of being eco friendly Ganesha are made without any solid survey. To which the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has dismissed the claim of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) that paper maché Ganesh idols, which are being promoted as eco-friendly, are a threat to the environment. The state pollution control board aforesaid that eco-friendly idols made of paper maché are not harmful, but the board will have to check with the researchers whether allegations made by HJS are appropriate.

On the other hand if we look into the study conducted by the Maharashtra Nature Park (MNP) Society, Mahim Ganesh idol made of clay too can cloud water, block sunlight from entering the water body and subsequently cause harm to marine life. A government resolution was issued, which stated that MPCB appealed to the people to purchase eco-friendly Ganesh Idols, made from paper pulp. According to the civic body, more than two lakh Ganesh idols are immersed during the 10-day festival in 71 natural and 27 artificial ponds across Mumbai. Devotees largely use two types of idols — those made of white clay and those of PoP, which are cheaper. The society tested idols made of clay, paper pulp and PoP in an artificial water body to get an idea of the time taken by the raw material to dissolve. The PoP idols dissolve in nearly three to four months, while those made of paper pulp take three days. But the makers of paper mache Ganesh idols claim that after Shaadu idols, paper mache idols are prepared by crushing paper and using a specific technique to give hardness and a desired shape. Then a white-ink powder is used to give an even white coat to the idol’s surface. After that, eco-friendly colours, which do not harm marine ecosystem, are applied to give life to the idol.

In an experiment to see the result of immersion of such an idol, it became soggy rather quickly once placed in the water tank and lost structural strength to stay upright within an hour. In the next three hours all the paper layers and pulp sank to the bottom and created a layered pile. The layers in the pile retained all the painting on the idol and the pile remained intact for two weeks in the quiet waters of the experimental tank. Later on, the mass disintegrates a bit.

PoP (Plaster of Paris) is terrible for the ecology because it is non-biodegradable and can take many months to dissolve; clay takes about an hour. A small 2014 study of two Mumbai lakes showed that post-immersion, the hardness, chlorinity, salinity, and turbidity of the water increase and oxygen levels plummet. However, there is still not enough definitive proof of this to ban the use of PoP idols. Meanwhile, toxic paints on the idol, while making them hugely attractive, worsen the water bodies’ condition. Add to all this the flowers, fruits, incense sticks, polythene bags—all offered to the god in veneration and then ritually dumped—that remain on the shores, decaying and posing a huge health hazard for months.

The government on its part is supporting clay. It orders clay statues for its own functions and runs awareness drives. However, it is not easy to change the artisans’ medium. There are very few artists left. Everybody wants fast money in today’s time. Wooing talent requires higher profitability, which clay doesn’t guarantee. Meanwhile, there have also been other symbolic attempts at making the festival more eco-friendly. For example, some clay idols now come filled with seeds, so people can plant the idols in their homes rather than immerse them. There’s also the chocolate Ganesh trend, wherein the idol is immersed in milk and distributed among poor kids. Mumbai-based NGO Sprouts Environmental Trust makes idols that fish can eat. Sugarcane and coconut husks are also being used. Though patrons are also becoming more environmentally conscious, these options still remain far costlier. The ecology is priceless indeed. But for the buyer of Ganesh idols, it still boils down to how much it is worth.

Meanwhile, now people are more concerned about the environment which is a good sign, from idols made of cow dung to paper adornments, people are ensuring that their celebrations do not affect the environment in any way. Thousands of young and old celebrate ten-day Ganeshotsav across the city and country with great magnificence. Eco-friendly idols have been a common pick for most families, cow dung idol’s effectiveness and easiness is eco-friendly, dissolves easily and, most importantly, light. Stalls across the city are also working towards creating awareness about eco-friendly idols. However, the demand for eco-friendly idols has risen over the years. People nowadays enquire if the idol will dissolve in a bucket or can used be as mud for their garden. The Ganesh has got wisdom in people and his devotee, what we need the most is devotion and willingness to bring change.

May this Ganesh festival bring safer ways of immersion to every living being and environment?  I pray to Lord Ganesha that may you have a prosperous and long life. Happy Ganesh Chaturthi to my dear readers. May Ganesha always stay your mentor and protector and remove obstacles from your life. Wish you and family a Happy and blessed Ganesh Chaturthi!    .

(Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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