God save our lakes, keep the PoP away!

Karnataka has banned the sale of PoP idols and has become the first state in the country to do so.

With Ganesh Chaturthi just days away, the idols of the most-loved god are flying off the shelves. But the grand festival leaves a bitter aftertaste with poisonous paint and Plaster of Paris idols choking our lakes and water bodies. Karnataka has banned the sale of PoP idols and has become the first state in the country to do so. But the ban seems to be only on paper as vendors are ferrying in idols from the neigbouring states. Is the Pollution Control Board letting go of another opportunity to curb the menace and save our dying lakes.

With Ganesh Chaturthi fast approaching, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board has formed squads with police officers and local body officials to stop trucks bringing in painted Ganesha idols from other states, and also restricted entry points into the city to save Bengaluru’s lakes from more contamination from their immersion, but none of this seems to be stopping the vendors. Many are even now promising to get any variety of idol the customer wants all the way from Mumbai.

Says Shivaji, a vendor on DVG Road, “I only sell top class idols and they are brought only from Mumbai. Just tell me the size, colour and style of the idol you want and I will ensure you get it before Saturday.”

The breezy assurance doesn’t say much for the policing in the place. Only last year, a KSPCB survey done post-Ganesha Chaturthi revealed alarming levels of contaminants in Ulsoor, Mallathahalli, Sankey and Yelamallappa lakes. While the chromium and copper content of their water set off alarm bells, the presence of lead, zinc and nickel in many other lakes revealed more damage to the eco system.

Read: 'Political leaders must stop funding painted idols'

“At a time when our lakes are already dying due to contamination from industrial waste, the PoP idols are causing them additional damage. The ecosystem of lakes will be severely hampered by this chemical pollution,” warns former state environment secretary and green crusader, Yellappa Reddy.


Ask why the KSPCB is not able to fully prevent the sale of Plaster of Paris (PoP) idols, its chairman, Lakshman explains its hard to enforce the ban strictly when the religious sentiments of the people are involved. “Yes, there are teething problems in fully enforcing the ban because it is the first time it has been introduced. All these years, activists demanded a ban and the government only discussed it. But to enforce a ban like this is like walking on a tightrope because it can hurt the religious sentiments of people. But there is no question of going soft from next year,” he assures.

For once, the BBMP, which has joined hands with the KSPCB to prevent the sale of PoP idols in the city, is going about its job systematically. “We are assessing the number of PoP idols already available in the market so we know when more enter it. The assessment is done every day in every zone. But we haven’t arrived at a consolidated number yet,” says BBMP commissioner, Manjunath Prasad.

Both agencies have also kicked off awareness campaigns, and penalty drives and inspections to see that the ban on PoP idols is not violated. While they seem to be having some success with some vendors reporting a fall in sales owing to the rising awareness among people about the painted idols’ harmful effects, it's anybody’s guess whether the impact will be as much as hoped for.

Festival-ready says BBMP, ropes in RWAs
Don’t be surprised if volunteers come knocking on your door this week asking you to buy eco-friendly Ganesha idols. Members of resident welfare associations and green volunteers are going door to door to help the BBMP create awareness about the harmful effect of the PoP variety and school children too have been told about the pollution they can cause in lakes so they can carry the message home to their families.

Says BBMP joint commissioner (health), Sarfaraz Khan, “We realised that levying a fine of Rs 100 or Rs 200 on idol vendors and manufacturers will not do the trick. Festivals are emotional issues and need to be handled with care. So we decided to create awareness among people instead of penalising them. While no action will be taken against buyers, our volunteers in each zone are requesting them not to opt for the painted idols.”

In addition to the campaign, groups of volunteers will be stationed at pandals, lakes and immersion tanks to segregate the festival garbage. While bio-degradable garbage like flowers and banana and mango leaves will be sent to Mavallipura, all non-biodegradable waste, including the idols, will be sent to the Kogilu landfill. “Like last year we will remove all the PoP idols from the tanks and lakes on September 4 and 5, and transport them to different landfills. We do not want the idols to contaminate the lakes,” Mr Khan adds.

Ban on PoP idols creates fear, demand decreases
Surrounded by hundreds of PoP Ganesha idols that he hopes to sell this festival, vendor, Sridhar is a worried man. And he has reason to be as there are not many takers for the idols he has on offer this year. “My annual income depends on selling these 6,000-odd idols. But with only a week left for the festival, people are refusing to buy them. How am I going to survive this year?” he asks worriedly.

With awareness of the ban on PoP idols rising, vendors in the city are afraid their year’s hard work and investment in readying the painted Ganeshas for the festival may all amount to nothing. While they can be fined for selling the painted idols now that the ban is in force, a lot of their customers too seem to think they may attract action during immersion if they don’t opt for the more eco-friendly variety.

“Although we assure them that they will not have any problem immersing the painted idols, they still refuse. Even my regular customers are now placing orders for mud idols. How can I make them in a few days?” asks Sridhar.

Seeing his business go downhill, another vendor, Raju, decided not to fight the inevitable. Besides the painted idols, he is now selling the clay/mud variety as well and it appears his tactic is paying off.

“Many customers, who came to my store left on seeing there were no mud idols. So I ordered an equal number of mud idols as otherwise I may not have done any business. Now at least people come to enquire about the rates and place orders,” he says with relief.

Vendors like Sridhar, however, feel the government should revoke the ban and instead introduce a cap on the size of the idols so they can be immersed in smaller tanks and keep the lakes free of pollution.

“We too are concerned about the lakes. If the government restricts the size of the idols , allowing only them to be no bigger than 5 ft or 6ft tall, they can be immersed in tanks rather than lakes,” he suggests.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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