Hyderabad: Immersion of Ganesh idols has long been a source of pollution for Hussain Sagar lake, the pride of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Of late, it is being claimed that the content of harmful chemicals getting into the lake during the Ganesh idol immersion has come down due to increased awareness among the people, who now prefer idols made of clay and painted with natural dyes than those with acrylic colours.
However, such idols are limited to households and isolated localities. A majority of idols installed on pandals at different locations are still made of plaster of Paris and apply acrylic colours or those with harmful chemicals. “We cannot say how many idols are made of plaster of Paris, but we are sure a majority of them are made of that material,” Bhagyanagar Ganesh Utsav Samithi general secretary Dr Bhagavant Rao said.
When compared to 1,500 Ganesh idols in 1980, the number has increased to around 50,000 in the last few years. On an average, 35,000 idols are immersed in the lake while other idols are immersed at different lakes in and around the city. This has become possible due to efforts of NGOs and officials to decentralise the idol immersion.
Idols in acrylic colours are a major concern to the officials, as they contain harmful chemicals like lead, cadmium and chromium which are carcinogenic. Plaster of Paris is calcium sulfate hemihydrate, a plaster derived from heating gypsum, which takes several months to dissolve, unlike clay which dissolves in hours. With increasing apartment culture and growing competition among pandal organisers, bigger and more colourful idols are being installed without giving any thought to the material or chemicals used. Decorations using fibre and thermocol add to the pollution content.
Ganesh Deeksha’s G Hanumantha Rao, the person behind the famous Khairatabad Ganesh idol, said that the state government is to be blamed for the increase in idols made of plaster of Paris. In 2001, the government had given an order mandating use of plaster of Paris for idols instead of clay. Now, with sustained campaigns on various fronts urging people not to use chemical colours but natural dyes, the usage of the harmful chemicals has reportedly come down as the annual studies indicate, Andhra Pradesh State Pollut ion Cont rol Boar d (APSPCB) officials said.
Decrease in oxygen levels in the lake due to dumping of organic matter such as flowers and other puja materials is another concern. According to APSPCB sources, the levels of oxygen are as low as 2 mgl (milli gram per litre) against the required 4 mgl. However, several efforts are being made by the board to increase the oxygen levels required for the survival of the aquatic life in the lake.
Ganesh idols immersion is but a temporary phenomena affecting the lake, which was once a drinking water sources for the twin cites of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. The day after immersion, GHMC and HMDA remove the maximum content deposited in the lake, which lessens the impact of the pollution. However, sewage and industrial effluents from various industries located in the city are another major cause of lake pollution.
An unofficial estimate said that 200 million litres per day (mld) of sewage and effluents are being dumped. Though there is a sewage treatment plan located near the lake and another three are in pipeline, a complete cleansing of the lake is what is needed, experts opine and it can only be achieved when the sewage going into Hussain Sagar is completely diverted. Even then, it will be a time consuming affair with crores of funding required.
Environmentalist say citizens can take the first step to contain lake pollution by using Ganesh idols of limited size made of clay and coloured with natural dyes.
How to Lessen Pollution
- Buy Ganesh idols made of bio-degradable material like papier-mache.
- Encourage natural dyes and environmental-friendly colours.
- Look at the festival as time for devotion, not a matter of prestige.
- Use stone idols and perform symbolic immersion.
- Don’t immerse the idols at one place.
- Contemplate ways and means to do away with plaster of Paris.