Jamshedpur, October 13: As Durga Puja and Dussehra festivities concluded on Tuesday, October 11, rivers and lakes once again became more polluted following immersion of idols worshipped in puja pandals across the steel city and nearby areas.
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.
Immersion of idols of Goddess Durga and others in the Subarnarekha and Kharkai Rivers on the Vijay Dashami day has increased the pollution level in the already contaminated rivers in Jamshedpur.
A visit to the banks of Subarnarekha and Kharkai Rivers revealed the kind of waste and filth spilled all over, as the river ghats bore the brunt of the deluge of garbage, puja materials and idols.
The Subernarekha Ghat in Sakchi saw immersion of 150 Durga idols while total 306 idols were immersed on Tuesday.
Environmentalists and river experts have been campaigning against these idol immersions for over a decade now. 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.
Apart from parts of idols and other materials lying around, these areas are the daily destination of several people for ablutions.
According to experts, after the immersion of idols and flowers on Tuesday, the level of impurities in the water in both the rivers, which form the life line of the region, rose considerably.
“Immersion of idols, flowers and other materials of religious significance lead to pollution and a lot of these things block the filters of the water treatment plants, as the quantity of pollutants is so high,” noted a pollution board official.
Elaborately painted and decorated idols are worshipped before they are taken during mass processions to rivers and lakes in the region, where they are immersed in accordance with Hindu faith. Paints contain heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and lead, which can pass up the food chain from fish to human beings, he said.
Environmentalists said materials like plaster of Paris do not dissolve easily and, hence, they reduce the oxygen level in the water, resulting in the deaths of fish and other aquatic organisms.
Traditionally, idols were made from mud and clay and vegetable-based dyes were used to paint them.However, commercialization of festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja has led to people wanting bigger and brighter idols and they are no longer happy with the eco-friendly statues.
Senior officials of Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board said that as per norms, traditional clay should be used for making idols rather than baked clay. It also prohibits the use of toxic and non-degradable chemical dyes. Instead, the norms prescribe use of natural colours used in food products.
The guidelines also dictate that flowers, cloths and decorations should be removed and collected for separate disposal before immersion. Moreover, the leftover material at the immersion sites should be collected by local civic bodies within 24 hours after the ceremony.
“Every year we ask the puja committees to take steps to shun the use of toxic materials, but the situation remains the same every year,” said Suresh Paswan, regional officer, Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board. He said that the paints often contain toxic metals, such as lead and mercury, which increase the pollution level.
“We monitor water quality tests in major rivers like Subarnarekha and Kharkai before and after the immersions. For a fair assessment of water quality, we conduct all kinds of tests such as pH level, bio-chemical oxygen demand, conductivity, turbidity, total dissolved solids and other heavy metals,” said another senior board official.
While the big and organized pujas are monitored by the civic body, thousands of other pujas performed on a smaller scale go unchecked. The idols from these pujas are not taken out after immersion and nobody checks if they have lead-free paints.
“Durga Puja was once a community affair. For example, 2,000 people used to be a part of a single puja with one idol. Now, everybody wants to perform a puja with his or her own family. Hence, the number of idols has increased manifold in a few years,” says Ranjan Chatterjee, a resident of Sonari.