THE Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) has found that some local artisans still use plaster of Paris (PoP) to make Ganesh idols despite the ban. Over past two years, the GSPCB collected 143 clay samples from artisans engaged in making Ganesh idols and found that there was higher concentration of calcium sulphate (which is used to make PoP) in 14 samples: that is, about 10 per cent of the idols were made of plaster of Paris. Calcium sulphate is naturally found in clay and its concentration ranges between 0.6 and 3.068 per cent. The GSPCB has set the ceiling for calcium sulphate at 5 per cent. A joint inspection by the GSPCB and Goa Handicrafts Rural and Small Scale Industries Development Corporation revealed that at least six artisans were using calcium sulphate 8 to 20 times more than the ceiling. Some of the artisans are registered with the Goa Handicrafts Rural and Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (GHRSSIDC) for selling Ganesh idols.
For years together the law enforcement agencies have been finding that despite ban, use of plaster of Paris in making idols was going unabated. They have failed to take action against the artisans violating the law. In 2016 the officials found that concentration of PoP ranged between 15.1 per cent and 67.2 per cent, and in 2017 it ranged slightly lesser. It is interesting to note that while GSPCB officials claim that the board has been submitting reports to the GHRSSIDC after the joint inspections recommending action against those violating the law, the GHRSSIDC maintains that it has not received any report from GSPCB. Surprisingly the GHRSSIDC released subsidy amounting to Rs 47.50 lakh for the year 2017 to all Ganesh idol makers, which included those whose products were found to have been made with banned substance. If there is no action, the artisans will continue to use PoP. Had the officials acted against those using banned substance in the previous years, the use of PoP by artisans in making idols could have been eliminated by now.
Idols made of PoP are non-biodegradable, and hence pose health hazards. Studies have revealed that idols made of PoP remain intact for several months in water, as compared to clay idols which dissolve within 45 minutes. Besides, calcium sulphate is known to cause permanent hardness in water. A study conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found that after immersion of idols, chemical contents and dissolved solid contents in the water rose significantly. It has also been found that a large number of fish die in the water bodies after idol immersions. What is worse, the only paints that work on PoP are oil paints, which are high in poisonous chemicals and heavy metals. Year after year the pollution authorities have been warning people against using idols made of PoP. This year too, the Goa authorities issued warning against selling and use of idols of Ganesh made of PoP. It is high time that the government created more awareness among people about the ill effects of using PoP in idols and seeking their support in not buying idols made of PoP owing to health hazards and damage to environment.
With the advisories not to make and use Ganesh idols made of PoP having failed it is high time that the authorities act against those violating the law. While persuasive mechanism should be continued, those found repeatedly violating the law should be taken to task. A list of habitual and persistent violators should be made public through newspapers, appealing to the people not to buy idols from them. The Ganesh Chaturthi is round the corner and thousands of Ganesh idols are being displayed at various places. The authorities should make surprise checks of the samples for PoP and take action against those making and selling idols with the banned substance. The idols made of the banned substance should be removed from the market beforehand in order to prevent damage to the environment and aquatic life. Religious festivities are private affairs, but the Hindu devotees would be doing a great service as human beings by protecting the healthy, life-sustaining environment given to us by the Lord. Religious festivities should incorporate eco-friendly practices. Let the children of Ganapati Bappa take an oath to frustrate the repeated assaults on the purity of rivers and environment by some artisans and unscrupulous traders by identifying their hazardous products and boycotting them with the help of the experts in the Goa State Pollution Control Board.