Published On : Fri, May 22nd, 2020

Covid relief to artisans making idols for Ganeshotsav

Nagpur: The union environment ministry on Friday withdrew its proposed ban on the use of Plaster of Paris (PoP) for making idols in 2020

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar said that the decision to postpone the ban by one year was taken to help artisans but environmentalists criticised the government, saying that PoP was harmful to the environment.

“The ban on PoP for the Ganesh idol has been postponed for one year. This will not harm those artisans who have already made their idols this year,” Javadekar tweeted on Friday.

On May 13, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) published guidelines on banning the use of PoP, thermocol, and single-use plastic for making idols across India while encouraging the use of biodegradable and less toxic materials. Even dyes and toxic chemicals used to colour the idols were proposed to be banned for future use.

“Based on submissions from various parts of the country about different festivals, especially Maharashtra, where idol makers have already purchased large quantities of PoP, we have lifted the ban just for this year. Considering the Covid-19 crisis and difficult economic situation, the decision was taken. Idol makers are directed to avoid the use of chemicals and dyes as much as possible this year,” said a senior official from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. “This is a temporary decision, and the ban will be implemented from 2021.”

Made from Gypsum, which is heated up to 150 degrees Celsius, PoP contains chemicals such as sulphur, phosphorus and magnesium. It is also used for making casts for broken bones. It costs the cheapest (Rs. 500 to 1000 for a small household idol) among all materials, but it remains in the environment for a long time, with potential harm to aquatic life.

The umbrella body of Ganesh mandals in the city, Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS), had requested the Maharashtra government and the Centre to allow the use of plaster of Paris (PoP) during this year’s festival. “Acquiring large quantities of clay, which is very expensive, will be very difficult during lockdown for artisans. We welcome the Centre’s decision to ensure idol makers are not harmed during this tough period. We have directed mandals to celebrate a simple festival this year,” said Naresh Dahibhavkar, president, BSGSS.

This year 2.32 lakh large and household idols are slated to be made in Mumbai, Dahibhavkar said. “Of this 15% will be eco-friendly, made from clay and paper, while the remaining will be made up of PoP. About 10% of 2.32 lakh idols have already been made,” said Dahibhavkar.

Marine biologists said PoP was never the choice for idol makers historically. “It has always been clay (shadu) idols not only for Ganeshotsav but other festivals as well. PoP takes months to break down and dissolve, destroying the marine ecosystem and considering the Covid-19 pandemic, it is our duty to be more sensitive to the environment. Lifting the ban is a bad idea,” said Vinay Deshmukh, marine biologist and former scientist, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI).

Environmentalists pointed out that the CPCB had revised its guidelines after 10 years based on an order passed by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court (HC) discouraging the use of PoP. “The Centre does not have the authority to override the HC’s decision, which was in the interest of the environment. Historically, the size of the idol (during Lokmanya Tilak’s time when the festival was first celebrated in the current form) was not more than nine inches. The priority of the ministry should be the opposite of the decisions it is currently taking,” said Anand Pendharkar, wildlife biologist, Sprouts Environment Trust.

Use of PoP In Mumbai during Ganeshotsav

An average of 11,000 large (for public places) idols and 1.6 lakh household idols are made every year using PoP. The use of thermocol and plastic was disallowed by the umbrella body of Ganesh mandals last year. An average of 75 large idols and 40,000 household idols are made using clay while 250 paper idols are made annually during the 11-day Ganeshotsav festival. Lalbaugcha Raja, Mumbai Cha Raja Ganesh Galli, Andhericharaja, Fortcha Icchapurti and many other popular idols have been using PoP annually for almost a decade. Last year 2.11 lakh idols were immersed across 129 immersion spots in Mumbai. The figure was 2.03 lakh in 2018, 1.92 lakh in 2017, and 2.09 lakh in 2016. The percentage of eco-friendly idols increase from 2% to 5% over four years with a maximum increase in paper idols being adopted by mandals.