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Ganesh 'visarjan': How it impacts our environment

Despite the growing level of awareness on the environmental hazards of Ganesh visarjan, the negative after effects of the festival are still too prominent to ignore

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An increasing number of devotees have switched to celebrating the extremely popular Maharashtrain festival of Ganesh Chathurti in an eco-friendly manner. However, it still leaves out a large population that remains wary of the environmental harms they cause. This in turn has, over the last few years, led to the severe damage of the ecological balance of the city's coastline.

A lot has been done to create awareness and implement preventive measures, but with the numbers involved, these efforts have not had an impact. Also, being a sensitive issue, activists tread carefully. Yet it is imperative to point that most environmentally-harmful practices are products of the last couple of decades.

Here are some of the most damaging consequences of the city's most favourite festival:

Plaster of Paris Idols
The most damage perhaps arises out of the idols made out of Plaster of Paris (PoP). E-coexist.com explains, “PoP is not a naturally occurring material. While idols made out of naturally occurring clay (shaadu in Marathi) dissolve within hours of immersion in water, PoP idols may take anywhere between several months to years to fully dissolve. In addition, when chemical paints are used to decorate the idols, these paints contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which seep into the water as the idol dissolves.”

Decorations used at the Nirmalya or place of worship
Another potential threat arises from the use of non-biodegradable products used to decorate the place of worship. Many a times, even those who opt for an eco-friendly idol, tend to use objects such as thermocol, plastic and chemical paints for the purpose of decorating their place of worship, which create issues of waste management. What is worse is that some even tend to immerse these decorations along with the idol. “In Pune and Mumbai, the municipal corporations tell people not to immerse the 'nirmalya' into the water. Instead, they have installed large bins shaped as traditional pots or 'kalashes' to receive this,” informs e-coexist.com.

Visarjan or Immersion
With the number of idols involved and their competing sizes, the action of idol immersion itself, is extremely harmful to the environment. So even those with eco-friendly idols end up contributing to the excessive materials added into the water bodies causing unintentional damage to the ecosystem. To add to that, non-biodegradable idols can block the natural flow of water bodies, allowing stagnation.

A set of guidelines issued by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) point out, “In the present scenario, metals, ornaments, oily substances, synthetic colours, chemicals are used to make paint and decorate idols for worship and when these idols are immersed our aquatic and surrounding environments get severally affected.”

A related study on lakes by CPCB in 2010 found that:
* The acid content in the waters increased
* The TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) increased by a 100%
* The Dissolved Oxygen content increased during the day due to the agitation of waters during immersion and reduced at night when organic discharge increased
* The heavy metal content sampling showed a ten fold increase in metals such as iron, while copper content in the sediments increased by 200 to 300%.

Considering the day-to-day rise of pollution, as a devotee, one can take many precautionary measures to ensure environmental safety during the festive seasons.

To find out how to sculpt your own eco-friendly idol, click here

To read how devotees are taking eco-friendly initiatives during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, click here

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