Yamuna reaps toxic harvest of immersed idols

October 11th, 2008 - 12:55 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 11 (IANS) Floating plastic bags, decaying fruits, coconut shells, bamboo frames, silver and papier-mache decoration, crumpled flowers, all on frothing waters. This was the river scene after hundreds of idols of Goddess Durga and her pantheon were immersed in the Yamuna river Thursday to mark the end of the Durga Puja festival in the capital.Over 300 idols were immersed at two places in the river - Gita Ghat in north Delhi and Kalindi Kunj in south Delhi. In the process, tonnes of lead-based toxic paints and other chemicals, flowers, leaves, coconut husks, clothes and so on have been left behind in the water.

The dying river, once known as the lifeline of the capital, remains a mute witness to the depredation in the name of religion with no one taking responsibility to clean the mess.

S.D. Makhijani, of the Central Pollution Control Board (CBCB), bluntly told IANS: “I don’t think the CPCB is going to clean up the leftovers; maybe state authorities should do something.”

He also said “no study or initiative to assess the impact of the idols’ immersion has been constituted.”

Environmental campaigners have decried the authorities’ inaction.

“The authorities and the pollution control boards claim that it’s a religious issue and that they did their job by sending notices to puja committees. No action has been taken to check the environmental impact of this yearly event,” said Vimlendu Jha of the NGO We for Yamuna.

To ensure minimal harm to the river, the Delhi High Court had earlier asked the puja committees to use a recycling pit away from the river for disposing of all the material that is usually immersed along with the idols, Jha pointed out.

The authorities had also been asked to build artificial ponds where the idols could be immersed rather than add to the pollution load on the river, he said.

“It’s not just a question of hurting the river biologically and chemically. How can anyone immerse a revered goddess in something that is effectively a drain?” Jha wondered, referring to the state of the river. The CPCB said in a report: “The Delhi stretch is in extremely deteriorated condition and not suitable for designated use.”

Puja organisers usually choose to turn a blind eye to the problem, though many of those who throng the marquees during the puja days feel “the immersions are not healthy for the river”.

“All puja items are thrown into the river along with idols of Durga - ideally the puja materials were flowers and fruits in pots made of clay, which were biodegradable. But tradition has changed. As more idols compete for glamour and use toxic non-biodegradable plastics and paints for decorations, the river ends up looking like a drain,” said Aditya Mazumdar, 21, member of the Joint Puja Committee in Chittaranjan Park, South Delhi.

Jha blames the callous attitude of the puja organisers for the “toxic mess”.

“The puja committees’ callous attitude, the government’s inaction and ignorant civil society are all responsible for the toxic mess in the river.

“In consultation with religious leaders and puja committees, the CPCB must create a coordination committee and encourage the use of organic dyes to control pollution in the Yamuna - and also fulfil the court’s directives,” he said.

But nobody seems interested. And the river that Hindus call sacred chokes to death.

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