Yamuna: A river dying by plaster

By Nachiket Kondhalkar

As the nine-day-long Durga Puja festivities came to an end on Saturday, the river was left choking. The banks of South Delhi’s Kalindi Kunj Ghat and North Delhi’s Nigam Bodh Ghat witnessed numerous half submerged idols of Durga, a majority of which were made of Plaster of Paris (PoP).

Unclean Yamuna

Government agencies in the national capital have failed the Yamuna again this year. The river water saw a sea of plastic bags floating along with garbage, flower petals and other decorations made of metal and plastic.

Idols made of PoP do not dissolve in water, unlike idols made from mud. Cleaners also find it difficult to pull them out as the idols pierce their hands and feet and often cause grievous injuries. The idols that choked the Yamuna came from Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and surrounding areas.

Unimplemented bans

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had placed a complete ban on the use of PoP for making idols in 2015. Paints with high levels of lead and mercury were also banned. They cause serious damage to the soil and water of the ecologically-sensitive areas when immersed. However, many people do not dispose of insoluble materials before the immersion. There is no real testing of the materials used to build the idols either. “Compliance is very poor. I don’t think anybody has been fined for not using biodegradable materials since the order,” said CR Babu, an ecologist who is part of the committee appointed by the NGT.

Guidelines were also issued by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2010 and by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) for the same. These warnings have largely gone unheeded by both the manufacturers and the public.

Remains of Durga Puja

These immersed idols come from over 200 Durga Puja pandals across the city. Idols worshipped at home are also brought for immersion. Officials from the South and North Delhi municipal corporations said that cleaning of the ghats commenced early on Sunday morning. According to the revenue department, the government had helped to identify seven designated ghats for immersions. They said it was the duty of the flood and irrigation department and the municipal corporations to help clean the river.

Raveendra Kumar, executive engineer at the department of irrigation and flood control, said that they had built enclosures on the banks of the river for the devotees to drop their insoluble wastes. The waters had enclosures to avoid the flow of debris into the river. He added that during the immersions, they had JCB equipment on standby to help pull out the idols as and when they were immersed.

The dying river

The Yamuna is already considered one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Last year, the levels of total suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand and toxins rose severely at the six designated ghats.

The river Yamuna in Delhi is further polluted after the nine days Durga puja celebrations owing to the indiscriminate throwing of all the idols into the already dying river.

Last year, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living conducted a World Peace Forum in the banks of the Ganga which was objected by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). After the blatant flouting of rules, the religious head was asked to pay a fine of Rs 5 crores. There is no word on whether this was actually paid.

It seems that government agencies keep issuing notices and warnings with little to no change in the environmental costs. All we know is that public memory is short and we do not ask uncomfortable questions.

Featured Image Credit:  ironypoisoning via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA