Before every Ganesh Chaturthi, people from across India, especially Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa, get busy with preparations for celebrations. But, as the momentum of activity increases, officials of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) start feeling queasy in their stomachs. For, though festivals like Ganesh Puja and Durga Puja are a time for fun, it is also the time when rivers and lakes around the country are abused.

Unlike in the past when the idols of gods and goddesses were made of ordinary colours and plain clay that dissolve in water easily, without causing widespread pollution, now they are made of plaster of Paris, distemper, plastic paint, dyes, metallic powders, adhesives, varnish, fluorescent powders and oil paints, which can have an adverse effect on the eyes, skin and respiratory system. These coloured idols with pigments containing harmful chemicals, flowers, coconut shells, plastic bags, wood and other items find their way into the waters.

People use crane to lift Lord Ganesha idol for the traditional immersion during Hindu festival ganesh chathurthi (Hyderabad, India)
People use crane to lift Lord Ganesha idol for the traditional immersion during Hindu festival ganesh chathurthi (Hyderabad, India) reddees / Shutterstock.com

Not only do they pollute the rivers, they slowly push these water bodies towards an imminent death. While these items are harmful to life in the rivers and lakes, the insoluble plaster of Paris chokes natural water sources like lakes and wells. It causes an excessive amount of silting, which reduces the depth of the lake/river and affects its water-retaining capacity.

Be it the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad, the Ganga or our own Yamuna, they are all victims of unthinking practices by humans. While the Hussain Sagar has become so polluted that migrating birds have stopped visiting it during the winter months, the Ganga in Calcutta literally chokes after every Durga Puja. And the Yamuna has become so contaminated that it can barely support marine life.

No wonder the Centra Pollution Control Board (CPCB) officials are worried. But it is not as if nothing is being done about the problem. This year (2001), civic authorities and festival organisers in Mumbai and Pune tried to ensure that the Ganesha idols were not immersed in water and dug pits for offerings to be deposited.Perhaps the rest of India should take similar initiatives, the CPCB officials feel. And, maybe, the gods too will help in the attempt…