Green dream

Sep 06, 2011, 09:05 IST | Sudeshna Chowdhury

Today, on Gauri visarjan, Ganapati and Gauri idols will be immersed in water bodies. While authorities have been pressing for a green Ganesh Utsav, environmentalists feel that only awareness campaigns will not solve the problem

Today, on Gauri visarjan, Ganapati and Gauri idols will be immersed in water bodies. While authorities have been pressing for a green Ganesh Utsav, environmentalists feel that only awareness campaigns will not solve the problem

For years now, the city's green brigade has been reiterating that the much-celebrated Ganesh Utsav in Mumbai should go environment-friendly.

Activists, various Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and government authorities have been talking about eco-friendly Ganeshas and organising awareness programmes on the harmful effects of using Plaster of Paris (PoP) and artificial colours while making Ganesh idols.

Ganesh Visarjan in Mumbai

While efforts are underway to popularise the concept of 'going green', many believe that a different approach to the green campaign should be adopted to bring about a change.

Said Bittu Sahgal, editor, Sanctuary magazine, "The only solution that I see is speaking to community leaders coupled with strong implementation of guidelines to follow a more environment friendly approach towards celebrating our festivals.

Tradition and thoughts have, over a period of time, metamorphosed into something, which is more commercial. An individual's attitudes also has to change."

Others believe that an open and engaging discussion between all parties concerned will help to bring forth the problems that artisans face while making eco-friendly Ganesh idols.

Elsie Gabriel, Founder President of the  Young Environmentalists Programme Trust, had recently organised an Eco Ganesha conference involving the public, government, BMC and artists, where people spoke about challenges faced while making eco Ganeshas.
Anna Tondwalkar, artist and member of the All-Mumbai  Ganesh Mandal Committee said, "The government should give clearer outlines on ingredients and sizes way in advance along with space to make clay idols as they take a long time to dry."
Further, Naresh Dahibawkar, president of the Mumbai Ganesha Samanaya Smiti also elaborated on how difficult it was to suddenly change to eco-friendly idols.

An artist paints Ganesh idols made out of eco-friendly materials,
mainly shells, dried palm frond stems and tree barks

Said Dahibawkar during the conference, "Clay idols are feasible for small sizes but for good quality idols we need moulds and PoP idols, which are lighter. We need concrete guidance from the authorities on how they can help us solve our problems."

As a solution , Gabriel suggested, "Stakeholders should be called under one roof, where they can discuss their problems. The discussions, which usually take place behind closed doors, should be held openly. Artisans, who totally depend on idol making for their livelihood, can then voice their concerns. The government authorities can then act accordingly."

Others feel that the responsibility lies with the people themselves but, authorities can go for strict implementation of the guidelines. Said Sumaira Abdulali convener of the Awaaz Foundation, a charitable trust and NGO in Mumbai, said, "PoP and artificial colours not only affect our environment, it also affects our health. Artificial colours contain high quantities of mercury and cadmium, which can be toxic to humans.

Moreover, traditionally Ganesh idols were made with clay. PoP is relatively a new method. Unless strict implementation procedures are being followed, no matter how much the awareness level is raised, people will not pay heed to such campaigns."

It is mainly the Sarvajanik Ganesh Mandals, which find it difficult to go for clay idols. "It is very difficult to make such huge clay idols.

Moreover, transporting clay idols from workshops to various mandals is not easy. Clay idols are very heavy and there are chances of damage. So it is practically impossible," said Santosh Kambli of Kambli Arts, which has been making the Lalbaugcha Raja idol since 1935.

When asked about pollution caused by PoP, well-known sculptor Vijay Khatu said, "There are lots of things, which cause pollution. Moreover, this festival comes just once a year. Making massive clay idols is a very challenging task."

Eco-friendly Ganesha

Other artisans say that, as far as numbers of Ganesh idols are concerned, it is practically impossible to meet the demands if one goes for clay idols. Said Ramesh Rawale, an idol maker, "We will be able to meet just 20 per cent of the total demand if we go for clay idols.

You need special skills to make clay idols whereas PoP idols are easy to make. There are very few people who can make good clay idols in Mumbai. Every year, devotees want taller idols. Hence, PoP is the only solution."


In a recent meeting held between Chief Minister (CM) of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan and representatives from the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS), organisers of Ganesh Mandals lamented that making eco-friendly idols is an expensive affair. Hence, the cost should be borne by the environment department, which falls under the CM's supervision.

Artists have often complained that the government only wakes up a month before the festival and issues guidelines in haste, which are impossible to follow due to the time constraints. Environment Secretary Valsa Nair refutes the claim made by the artisans.
Said Nair, "We have been issuing guidelines every year. Since Ganesh Utsav is a religious festival, we cannot hurt people's sentiments. Hence, imposing fines or any other penalty is not the solution. The only way is to create a demand for eco-friendly Ganeshas."

Sanjay Bhuskute, PRO, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, however seemed optimistic with the results of the green campaign. Refuting claims made by artisans that tall, eco-friendly Ganeshas are impossible to make, Bhuskute said, "This year, Sarvajanik Ganesh idols-at Vile Parle (E) and Jogeshwari have used tissue paper to make tall idols. Our main concern is pollution norms should not be violated at all."

A Ganesh idol being immersed in Jogeshwari (E)

Deputy municipal commissioner, Kishore Kshirsagar on the other hand claims that the corporation is doing its best to reduce the level of pollution during immersions. "Last year, we had 19 artificial ponds and this year we have 21 ponds. But our main concern is huge Ganesh idols made of PoP. It is not possible to make artificial ponds for these idols."

However, Kshirshagar insists that, at least people who get Ganesh idols at their homes should think about the environment. "People can easily go for clay idols at home. They can also stop using thermocols and plastic. This can help to prevent pollution to a large extent," said Kshirsagar.

But, Mumbaikars cite various reasons as to why they still prefer PoP idols. "Apart from being beautiful, PoP idols do not break easily. One has to really careful with clay idols," said Sudhir Dhuli (54) from Andheri (E).
Suunil Baidi (52) who gets a Ganesh idol from Chinchpokli has recently shifted from clay idol to PoP as, "The idol maker at the workshop stopped making clay idols since it was expensive.

Hence, I too switched to PoP. If the government wants the city to celebrate Ganesh Utsav in an eco-friendly way, then proper concessions should be provided to the artisans and the cost of clay idols should also be reduced," said Baidi.

How to go green
Avoid using idols made from Plaster of Paris (PoP). Instead opt for deities made of unbaked natural clay, natural fibre, or even recycled paper. Ensure that the dyes used to colour the idols are organic.

Do not use thermocol or plastic as decorations for the deity. Use cloth, wood, paper and other natural materials that are safer when immersed in water.

Immerse the idol in a tub or a tank specially made for the purpose. Later, you can discard the water by pouring it in your garden.

Collect offerings of flowers and other organic material and put them in a compost pit. These can be used to fertilise your garden. If you must immerse them, wrap them in newspapers instead of polythene bags.

Rs 5k-10k
3 feet tall Ganesh idol (PoP)

Rs 10k-20k
3 feet tall Ganesh idol (Clay)

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