The Ganapati Festival, also known as Ganesh Chaturthi, is a popular Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom and success. The festival is celebrated with great devotion and enthusiasm in Pune, Maharashtra, where it originated in the 19th century as a symbol of cultural and national unity. However, the festival also has some negative impacts on the environment, such as:
- Water pollution: During the festival, thousands of idols of Ganesha made of plaster of paris, clay, paper mache, or metal are immersed in rivers, lakes, or ponds. These idols contain harmful chemicals, paints, and dyes that contaminate the water and affect the aquatic life. The idols also create silt and debris that reduce the oxygen level and increase the acidity of the water. Water during this time is mostly stagnant and the immersed idols take a very long time for decomposition. Sadly, the Mula-Mutha river, that flows along a 22-km stretch through Pune city, is Maharashtra’s second-most polluted river as of 2018, containing human and animal excreta three times more than the safe limit, according to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). Mula & Mutha rivers are facing a serious environmental crisis since long. They are in critical status, polluted by untreated sewage, concrete waste, invasive plants, plastic garbage, and other hazardous substances. Most of the official recommendations for safe and eco-friendly immersions—using eco-friendly clay and natural colors in idols, immersing in artificial tanks and so on—are not followed in practice. Although there is some awareness among the citizens about the ill effects of POP idols, many still buy them. POP idols are still flooding markets and local authorities need to take stringent action against the production and marketing of these ganesha idols. Shadu clay idols are available in plenty and citizens are encouraged to bring them home. These idols are environment friendly. They don't pollute the rivers. Various non profit organizations such as Pune River Revival & Jeevit Nadi Living River Foundation and many others are raising a lot of awareness in Pune on rivers. Increased water pollution adversely affects the ecological biodiversity of our rivers.
- Air pollution: During this festival, fireworks and crackers are used in abundance by the devotees for expressing their joy. This leads to air pollution, as harmful gases and toxic substances like barium, cadmium, sodium, mercury, nitrate and nitrite are released into the atmosphere. These pollutants cause respiratory problems, allergies, asthma, and eye irritation among humans and animals. The air pollution also contributes to global warming and climate change. Moreover, the increase in consumerism during the festivities increases traffic which in turn increases air pollutants that are released by vehicles in the city. Various particulate and gaseous air pollutants and toxic metals in higher quantity degrades the Air Quality Index (AQI) significantly during the celebrations.
- Noise pollution: There is enormous noise pollution with the deafening "Music Speakers" in practice during the festivals. People generally don't follow the norms issued by local authorities and celebrate till late with the loud music beyond tolerance limits and set times. This causes sleep disruptions in children and senior citizens and affects their health. Firecrackers add to random sudden spurts in high sounds and vibrations at certain times, when festivities peak in Pune. Sound has to be within the permissible limit and citizens need to follow the noise-level norms. The "Dhol Tasha" practice is an integral part of welcoming and rejoicing Lord Ganesha which is a traditional way to celebrate the festival. People should choose the good practices of celebrating Ganapati . They should be considerate about all age groups and also animals around them. Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has raised concerns about these practices as they are way high compared to the limit allowed. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) the day and night noise levels should be at 55 dB and 45 dB respectively for residential areas. Last year in 2022, at 105.2 decibels, Pune recorded the noisiest celebrations on the last day of Ganeshotsav, according to College of Engineering Pune (COEP).The noise pollution also affects the health and well-being of humans and animals. It causes stress, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, hearing loss, and cardiovascular diseases. It also disturbs the natural rhythm and behavior of birds and animals.
These environmental issues pose a serious threat to the ecological balance and sustainability of Pune. Therefore, it is important to adopt eco-friendly ways of celebrating the Ganapati Festival, such as:
- Using natural or biodegradable materials for making idols of Ganesha, such as Shadu clay, paper mache, or organic colors.
- Immersing idols in artificial tanks or wells instead of natural water bodies.
- Donating idols to collection centers or recycling them for reuse.
- Avoiding fireworks and crackers or using eco-friendly alternatives.
- Reducing noise pollution by using low-decibel sound systems or traditional instruments.
The best thing you can do is to spread awareness among friends and families about the issues. Be a changemaker!
For the occasion of Ganeshotsav, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has released guidelines to celebrate the festival in an eco-friendly way from September 19 to 28. The PMC has encouraged all Punekars to use alternative methods to immerse idols and has set up facilities for immersion at various locations in the city through artificial immersion tanks. The PMC has also organized Nirmalya collection and composting at all artificial tanks and Ganesha idol collection centers. The PMC has also started "Punaravartan" recycling activities through various NGOs to collect and reuse Shadu soil after Ganesh immersion. Detailed information about all the systems set up by the Pune Municipal Corporation is available on the website www.pmc.gov.in However, authorities need to be more agile and ensure that there is increased awareness about the initiatives. Moreover, guidelines and regulations need to be implemented in practice by authorities by all means.
The Ganapati Festival is a joyous occasion that brings people together and strengthens their faith and culture. However, it should not be at the cost of harming the environment and endangering the lives of other living beings. By following eco-friendly practices and being responsible citizens, we can celebrate the festival in a way that honors both Ganesha and nature.
“गणपति बप्पा मोरया, मंगळमूर्ती मोरया"
Author: Vandana Chaudhary
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