With Ganesh Chaturthi just days away, arrangements in Bengaluru are in full swing with authorities setting up temporary immersion points, designated ponds and mobile tanks in each of Bengaluru’s eight zones. However, if you have a Plaster of Paris (PoP) Ganesha idol, you won’t be able to immerse it, and may also have to pay a hefty fine.
PoP idols have been banned by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) for a while now, reinforced in 2017 when the Karnataka High Court dismissed the writ petitions against the ban and upheld the KSPCB’s decision. PoP idols are bad for the environment, as studies have shown steep increase in the levels of heavy metals, acids, pH and decrease in dissolved oxygen among other things in water bodies where the idols are immersed.
This year again, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the KSPCB have been working to raise awareness about eco-friendly Ganesha idols over PoP ones, which are generally cheaper. They have also been seizing PoP idols from wherever they are getting complaints. However, if people have still managed to buy the PoP idols, BBMP asserts that they won’t be able to immerse it.
"We are contemplating a situation where we don’t get any PoP idols itself. But if someone does, then we will have to deny them the facilitation for immersing their idol," a BBMP official told TNM. "In any case, it is not as though people can come, and just immerse their idols as they please at the designated ponds or mobile tanks. We will be there. So we will be able to check for the PoP idols." The official added that defaulters could be fined a few thousand rupees as well.
Officials expressed confidence though, that this year they have been stricter than ever with respect to PoP idols, and people also seem to be more forthcoming about eco-friendly options.
BBMP Commissioner Anil Kumar told TNM that if people want to display Ganesha idols publicly, they will have to seek permission from a single window agency setup comprising of the Bengaluru police, BBMP, BESCOM and the Fire and Emergency Services. When asked if the BBMP is ensuring that the huge idols often displayed publicly are also eco-friendly, the commissioner said, “This time, the big idols are also mostly clay idols only.” The permissions will reportedly only be granted if the idols are eco-friendly.
According to reports, 32 designated ponds and 100 mobile vans will be in place for immersions. However, BBMP officials told TNM on Thursday that the final numbers will only be revealed in a couple of days.
Despite the BBMP’s confidence, earlier reports quote KSPCB officials having a more reserved take on the administration’s attempts to curb PoP idols. A KSPCB official reportedly alleged that they were threatened by politicians to not take action against those having PoP idols. The official added that politicians in different districts compete over who has the best idol. Since clay idols – an environment-friendly option – have size restrictions, they prefer PoP idols.
Civil society activists, meanwhile, say that the administration’s efforts to clamp down on PoP idols are “last minute efforts.” “This is an annual ritual. The agencies are making an effort to promote eco-friendly idols but these are more like last minute efforts at this point,” said Suresh NR, head of Namma Bengaluru Foundation. “People also need to be more aware. Even though PoP idols are cheaper, when we do not think about spending thousands on a cell phone, why can we not spend a little more to prevent environmental damage that can affect us in the long term?”
Suresh added that it needs to be a cumulative effort to be rid of PoP idols. “Priests could also contribute to this. When approached to do poojas for this festival, they could perhaps ask if the idols are made of clay or other eco-friendly material, and only then agree.”