Idol Immersion in Ganga Worries Environmentalists

The annual ritual of immersing in the Ganga idols of goddess Durga and other Hindu deities has alarmed environmentalists, who point out that the practice will not only threaten the survival of the endangered river dolphin and other aquatic creatures but also increases pollution in the already polluted river.

"The government has again failed to stop immersion in the Ganga here as no alternative facility was created for it," said Guddu Baba, who leads a movement to clean the Ganga.

Hundreds of idols were immersed in the Ganga in Patna and neighboring areas Thursday and Friday to mark the end of the Durga Puja festival.

R.K. Sinha, an expert on dolphins, blamed the government more than the people.

"Till date the government has not initiated any move to ban idol immersion in the river and to encourage people not to use the river for the practice," he said.

Sinha expressed serious concern over the government's alleged neglect of the issue. Authorities should create awareness of the need to immerse idols elsewhere to check the river pollution, he said.

Guddu Baba said some environmentalists have been expressing concern over the immersion of idols made up of metals and toxic materials in the river, polluting it year after year. "But who cares?

"Polythene bags, plastic items and synthetic clothing of the idols are dumped into the river, which was not the case earlier," he pointed out.

Sinha said the threat is grave because the synthetic material used in the idols includes paints containing poisonous metals like chromium, mercury and lead. 

"Immersion of idols not only increases pollution levels, it is threatening aquatic creatures including dolphins,' said Sinha.

"Heavy metals in the river water are highly dangerous for rare dolphins and fish," Sinha said. 

They said modern idols made of non-biodegradable material had just made matters worse, noting that traditional clay idols did not pose such threats.

"It is an age-old practice to immerse idols in the river but modern idols pose a serious threat to the river and its aquatic life," he said.

Till a decade ago, idols were made of clay and decorated with vegetable colors and other biodegradable material. "Now idols are made of Plaster-of-Paris, synthetic colors and decorated with non-biodegradable material that are not at all friendly to the river," Guddu Baba said.

He said the immersion of hundreds of idols had added over 5,000 liters of paint, hundreds of kg of Plaster of Paris and toxic synthetic material into the river.


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