‘No such thing as eco-friendly immersion’
Anahita Mukherji| TNN | Sep 22, 2015, 02.45 AM IST
While eco-friendly Ganeshas are in vogue this season, it's well worth remembering that, if immersed in the sea, or worse still, in rivers or lakes, their impact on the environment can be disastrous. While Ganeshas made of organic matter are replacing plaster of Paris idols, scientists say huge quantities of organic matter released into the sea are toxic.
"Even if you make Ganpatis out of flowers and rice, fish will die with such large quantities released into the sea. Immersions in ponds and lakes are even more dangerous, as the dilution levels are very low. The large quantities of water in the sea, as well as tidal fluctuations, help restore the water to normal. However, this does not occur in lakes and ponds, where the material from the immersed Ganpatis will remain the year round," says Rakesh Kumar, chief scientist and head of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in Mumbai.
He feels people are currently looking only at incremental improvements in pollution levels around the festival, such as replacing plaster of Paris with organic matter. "But we need to look at the bigger picture," he says.
Environmentalist Sumaira Abdulali says that even if all the plaster of Paris idols are replaced with organic idols, releasing them into the sea changes the balance of the ecosystem. "If people recycle Ganeshas, they should do so it in such a way that the recycled material is returned to the ecosystem in which it belongs, and not into another ecosystem," she says.
Immersions in artificial ponds, says Kumar, is a better option, as dirty water is not immediately released into the sea and can be let out in small quantities. Though this may be a relatively cleaner option, it is not 100% eco-friendly, either. "When you drain these ponds, the polluted water goes back into the earth and returns to us through the food chain. Also, while it is expected that water from the ponds will be decontaminated before releasing it into the sea, in practice, it does not always happen," says Abdulali.
Kumar says Ganeshas made of material that can be recycled are the best option. Kumar cited instances of metal Ganeshas being immersed, removed from the water and carried back home.
Abdulali, too advocates recycling Ganeshas. "The idols should be made of a substance that can be recast into a Ganesh next year round. For instance, people could make a silver Ganesh, which can later be recast into a statue next year," she says.