Plaster of paris idol use on rise, polluting water bodies


Ganesha Idols at Shree Ganesha Company, Bangalore

The annual tradition of immersing Ganesha idols in lakes and rivers during the Ganesh Chaturthi is leading to the yearly worry over the environmental impact the tradition causes.

With the Sept.17 festival approaching, BBMP officials are encouraging celebrants to build and immerse eco-friendly idols.

Though the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has banned plaster of paris idols, they’re still the most common ones used during the festival. The demand for plaster of paris statues is increasing, said Ganesha statue factory employees.

Immersing plaster of paris idols pollutes water bodies and reduces the oxygen levels, killing aquatic life, said K.L. Prakash, assistant professor of environmental science at Bangalore University. Idol immersion can cause a steep rise in the concentration of heavy metals, dissolved solids, acid content and a drop in dissolved oxygen in water bodies.

Often, clay idols are more expensive than plaster of paris idols, so people prefer the latter, said BBMP officials.

Clay idols also cause problems with transportation and safety standards, said workers at Shree Ganesha Company near Bangalore, because clay idols are fragile and can break in transit.

“The BBMP has made arrangements for a mobile tanker in each lake area,” said Ravindra, executive engineer with the BBMP Lake Department. “Of 78 lakes maintained by BBMP, only 15 idol immersion tanks are ready. In some places we cannot make it and in some places it is yet to be made available.”

BBMP workers ensure that idols are not immersed in the lake and that all festival materials are dumped outside the gates and are later cleared by the BBMP trucks, Ravindra said.

He said the BBMP and KSPCB are constructing separate “kalyani,” or small water enclosures, for people to immerse their idols, and mounting awareness campaigns for a pollution-free festival.

The city police keep an eye on lakes and immersion tanks during the first few days of the festival, but people sometimes immerse the idols after a few weeks or months, when no security guards are around, BBMP officials said.

It isn’t easy for labourers to clean the kalyani within a day because there aren’t enough labourers and the manual work is difficult, said BBMP engineers.

At Bangalore schools, the KSPCB is promoting the use of clay idols and eco-friendly idols. They have issued guidelines to make use of small, clay idols. Also, a list of various shops where these idols can be bought is available from the KSPCB website.


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