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CPCB bans PoP, promotes eco-friendly idols, Maharashtra artisans say not viable

Staring at losses after exports were hit due to lockdown since March and due to mounting debt, many among the skilled idol-makers now feel that these guidelines will close down their business.

Written by Sanjana Bhalerao | Mumbai | Published: May 15, 2020 5:40:35 am
With Ganesh festival only a few months away, for idol-makers, the latest CPCB guidelines are a death knell. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

In new guidelines released on Wednesday, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has banned the use of plaster of paris (PoP), thermocol and single-use plastic to make or decorate idols, while promoting the use of eco-friendly materials for the same.

With Ganesh festival only a few months away, for idol-makers, the latest CPCB guidelines are a death knell. Staring at losses after exports were hit due to lockdown since March and due to mounting debt, many among the skilled idol-makers now feel that these guidelines will close down their business.

On Wednesday, the CPCB published a revised version of its 10-year-old guidelines, which cover instructions for idol makers, immersions at waterbodies and in the sea, festival organising committees and the responsibilities of the state pollution control board.

In its guidelines, the CPCB encouraged the use of natural, biodegradable and eco-friendly raw material – for example, use of natural clay, pyramid of sugarcane sticks that represents the pandals and natural clay mixed with alum for making idols.

“Idols made up of PoP shall be banned. Only dried flower components and straws among others for making ornaments of idols and natural resins of trees may be used as a shining material for making idols attractive,” the guidelines said.

Kunal Patil, who heads the Hamrapur unit of the Ganesh Utkarsha Mandal, said, “Everybody has loans to pay, starting from Rs 5 lakh to the big units having loans of Rs 70 lakh. Just on Monday, some artisans started transporting PoP idols to markets, which fall in green and orange zones, mostly in Raigad, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts. But this new order will dampen the small progress we had made.”

Hamrapur village, in Raigad district’s Pen taluka, has about 450 idol-making units. High manufacturing cost of idols made of shaadu maati (clay) and lack of skilled labourers worry Sachin Murtikar Patil from Pen. “A 2-ft idol of shaadu mati costs at least Rs 1,700 more than PoP idols. For every 10 PoP idols in a day, a worker is able to make only two idols of clay. Financially, it is not viable for us and we don’t even get workers skilled in making clay idols. Immediate move to clay idols is impossible.”

Brihanmumbai Samanvay Ganeshotsav Sarvajanik Samiti (BSGSS), the umbrella body of Ganesh mandals in Mumbai, said an average of 11,000 large (sarvajanik) idols and 1.6 lakh household idols are made every year using PoP. Naresh Dahibhavkar, BSGSS president, said, “We are requesting the pollution control board to give some relaxations and move the implementation of ban to next year.”

Other guidelines issued by the CPCB require groups of craftsmen making over 100 idols to be registered with urban local bodies and the state pollution control board, which will grant fresh permits to artisans. Idols must be immersed in artificial ponds but in case there is no option but to immerse them in rivers, lakes or ponds, a designated location with shallow depth needs to be identified by the local authorities.

For immersions at sea, idols will be immersed between the high tide and low tide line at designated sites defined by the state’s coastal authority. The waste generated by the immersion must be collected and disposed safely by the local civic body within 24 hours.

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