Devotees gather on the Dhansiri River bank for idol immersion in river marking on end of the week-long Durga Puja celebrations. (Morung File Photo)
As October sets in, there is a sense of eagerness and anticipation with the festive season fast approaching. Irrespective of the community or religion one belongs to, these last few months of the year have a festive aura about them. One of the major festivals to be celebrated around this time is Durga Puja, which is celebrated by the Hindu community and marks the victory of good over evil. The Puja is performed in homes and in public and features stage and structural decorations and elaborately designed idols of the goddess Durga and other deities.
Traditionally, clay was used to make idols. Over the years however, plaster of Paris (PoP), which is lighter and cheaper, has become the favoured material to mould idols. PoP contains chemicals such as gypsum, sulphur, phosphorus, and magnesium.
The dyes used to colour these idols may also contain mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and carbon. Plastic and thermocol accessories are used to decorate these idols. Such materials are not biodegradable, hence are toxic when immersed in water bodies. Hence, need was felt to develop guidelines for idol immersion and the same was prepared by the Central Pollution Control with a view to ensure environment friendly idol immersion without affecting the quality of water bodies while ensuring religious observance.
The Revised Guidelines for Idol Immersion 2020 entail idol makers, artisans and craftsmen to ensure that idols are made up of only natural, bio-degradable, eco-friendly raw materials without any toxic, inorganic raw materials [such as traditional virtuous clay and mud as well as free from Plaster of Paris (PoP), plastic and thermocol (polystyrene)]. Use of Single Use Plastic and thermocol materials shall not be permitted strictly and only eco-friendly materials such as straw structure should be used in making idols or decoration of idols/pandals/tazias in order to prevent pollution in recipient water bodies. Eco-friendly water-based, bio-degradable and non-toxic natural dyes should be used instead of enamel and synthetic dye based paints on idols and removable/ washable decorative clothes made only with natural materials and dyes shall be used in place of disposable material containing paints and other toxic chemicals for beautification of idols.
As far as possible, Puja Organising Committees should ensure low height and eco-friendly idols (made with natural clay, idols stuffed with eco-friendly food materials such as corn, spinach, wheat and vegetable powder), idols decorated with biodegradable, organic colours such as turmeric, chandan and gerua etc for offering pujas to avoid impact on environment. Multi-use metallic or glass or plastic utensils or biodegradable utensils made of paper or broad dry leaves such as Areca/Banana/Banyan/Sal leaves or earthen pots maybe used in place of single use plastic and polystyrene (thermocol) for prasad distribution and other purposes. Puja Organising Committees should also seek prior permission from concerned ULB as the case may be, by providing management plan and the required provisions (as per the format to be issued by the ULBs) for ensuring safe idol immersion during festival season well at least one month in advance for making necessary arrangements in consultation with the concerned departments.
In the interest of protection of environment, Licenses/permits may be granted by the Local and Urban Bodies within the respective jurisdiction to only those Idol manufacturers or makers or craftsmen or artisans who use only eco-friendly natural clay materials (but not PoP or baked clay) in making idols, prior to festive times. While granting licenses or permits to the idol makers a list of permitted and non-permitted substances to be used for making/coloring/decorating idols may be provided to the Idol makers or craftsman or artisans. The ULBs may also impose restrictions on height of the idol to the idol making agencies or manufacturer or craftsmen or artisans (as lesser the size of the idol better would be the immersion process and less consumption of materials required for making idols) depending on the availability of water bodies, provisions made for idol immersions by the ULBs.
To ensure safe immersion of idols during festive season, ULBs should deploy adequate number of staff at all the designated idol immersion spots under overall supervision of the nodal officer to be designated by the concerned ULBs. Littering or burning of solid wastes comprising of used flowers, clothes, decorating materials, recovered material such as Bamboo and wooden logs, straw structures etc. so generated at the immersion sites or on the banks of water body should be prohibited strictly. Idol makers, Puja Committees may also be awarded for promotion of clay idols made with natural colors, consistent awareness for ensuring compliance to these rules. Imposing Spot fine for violation of these guidelines also be practiced by the Local and Urban Authorities and Disintegrated material/Non-biodegradable materials should be dealt as per provisions of the Solid Waste Management Rule 2016, as amended.
In case immersion of idols in rivers, lakes and ponds is inevitable, arrangement may be made for construction of adequate capacity temporary confined areas at designated places with earthen bunds for the purpose of immersion of idols at least 50 m away from the water body. After completion of immersion, only supernatant water may be allowed to flow into river/pond/lake, as the case may be, after checking for colour and turbidity as per BIS specification for Drinking Water IS 10500:2012. Concerned ULB Authorities also should consider option of construction of permanent cemented large sized artificial tanks for immersion of idols/Tazias at suitable places for a village or town or city to avoid direct immersion of idols into lakes/rivers/ ponds/sea. Post immersion, with remains of idols and activities such as desludging of the designated area should be undertaken and ensured its disposal as per Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 as amended thereafter, within 24 hours by the concerned ULBs, as per these guidelines.
Festivals are important because they encourage communal harmony, togetherness and spiritual connections but as we observe and celebrate our festivals it is also important that we do so in an environment friendly manner so that we don’t have to deal with the repercussions later. Let us resolve to observe our festivals keeping the well being of our planet in mind. Wish you all a very happy Durga Puja.
Issued in Public Interest by Nagaland Pollution Control Board