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Idol immersions after Durga Puja leave rivers polluted

The guidelines formulated by the Central and state pollution control boards (CPCB and SPCBs) went largely unheeded in spite of some efforts by municipal bodies and police to curtail the practice.

 Environmentalists and river experts have been campaigning against these idol immersions for over a decade now. Judicial interventions in the past, however, have not yielded the desired result. Every year, after Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and Kali Puja, the biological oxygen demand (BOD) levels in rivers increase dramatically.

Traditionally, the idols were made of mud and painted with natural colours. But now many are made using plaster of Paris (PoP) and coated with harmful paints containing heavy metals, all of which end up in the rivers on Dussehra day.

According to non-profit Toxics Link, approximately 100,000 idols are immersed in India’s water bodies each year. With the rise in pollution levels in the rivers, a few states are now evolving ways to prevent or minimise idol immersion.

A 1993-95, a study by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)—Impacts of Dussehra Festival on the River Hooghly: A case study—showed that every year at least 15,000 idols of Goddess Durga are immersed in the Hooghly river alone. The study states that this releases 16.8 tonnes of varnish and garjan oil and 32 tonnes of colours in the water. These colours contain a good doze of heavy metals like manganese, lead, mercury and chromium. The study also found that during Dusshera, oil and grease in the river increased by 0.99 milligram per litre (mg/l) and the concentration of heavy metals increased by 0.104 mg/l.

Just ahead of the festive season this year, the Allahabad High Court had banned immersion of idols in the Ganga and Yamuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh. The high court bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Arun Tandon ordered a blanket ban on immersion of idols in the rivers. It also dismissed the plea of the state government that the idols would be immersed and then taken out immediately. The order was pronounced during the hearing of a petition of environmental activist, Sudhanshu Srivastava, to check the rising pollution levels in the Ganga.

Though the state administration officials pleaded for a year’s time, the bench declined their plea and ordered the state government to ensure that within a year there should be ‘zero immersion’ in the rivers of UP. The court had earlier asked the state SPCB to monitor the water quality before and after the immersion of idols. The report submitted before the court revealed that the water quality deteriorated drastically after immersion of idols.

According to the recent reports of the SPCB, delayed monsoon had increased the pollution in Ganga and the situation would be worse in winter. Water at Bithoor, the point where the Ganga enters Kanpur city, is quite clear but the river gets polluted further down. At Jajmau, the stretch of the Ganga in the city is the most polluted. The dissolved oxygen (DO) level at Bithoor is 7.6 mg per litre which decreases to 6.3 mg per litre at Jajmau. The acceptable level of DO for a drinking water reservoir is 4 mg per litre, the report stated, adding immersion of a large number of idols during Ganesh Chaturthi had affected the water quality.

On arrangement with Down to Earth
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