Panaji: With Ganesh Chaturthi, the most popular religious festival in western India to be celebrated next month, Goa`s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government is pitching for idols made of papier mache that can be devoured by fish once they are immersed and can help in reducing the massive water pollution that takes place at that time.
"The purpose of introducing and pushing these (papier mache) eco-friendly idols is to create a viable option for those who would otherwise buy plaster of Paris idols," Goa Environment Minister Alina Saldanha said.
"What we are doing is to push for sale of a few hundred idols this year. For next year, we will create awareness about this new eco-friendly option and at the same time ban plaster of Paris idols," she added.
Currently, most Ganesh idols are made of clay or plaster of Paris and painted with synthetic colours. The highly toxic elements they contain pollute the water bodies they are immersed in.
According to their makers, once immersed, a one-foot-high Ganesh idol made of papier mache can be devoured by fish within 45 minutes.
"These are absolutely eco-friendly Ganesh idols. We use paper as the base, tree sap as a natural binder and food-grade dyes," Prathamesh Naik, spokesperson for the Mumbai-based Shree Aniruddha Upasana Foundation that has been manufacturing the eco-friendly idols, said.
The idols, sold at Rs 400, had been endorsed by the Maharashtra government as eco-friendly, Naik said. The foundation is targetting the distribution of 10,000 such idols in Maharashtra this year.
"They are much more eco-friendly than clay idols or even the plaster of Paris idols, which are cheap but really damage water bodies. We proved the eco-friendliness to the authorities in Maharashtra by slipping an idol into a fish tank at an aquarium. The idol was devoured by the fish in a matter of 45 minutes," Naik said, adding that in normal circumstances, once submerged, the idol took around four to five hours to completely disintegrate.
Though cheap, plaster of Paris idols continue to have a market in Goa and other places which celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. The idols contain gypsum, sulphur, phosphorus and magnesium and disintegrate slowly, in the process poisoning the waters of lakes, ponds and rivers as well as choking the beds of water bodies.
Lavoo Mamledar, chairman of the Goa Handicrafts Rural and Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (GHRSSIDC), said in a bid to take on the environmental damage caused by idols made from plaster of Paris, it was imperative to promote alternative and green friendly methods of making Ganesh idols.
"The corporation will market these idols as our bit towards making the Ganesh Chaturthi festival eco-friendly," Mamledar said.
Former BJP legislator Damu Naik, who had moved a private member`s bill in the Goa assembly in 2004 to ban the making of Ganesh idols in plaster of Paris, said that the papier mache Ganesh idols might take some time to win over the conservative-minded Ganesh followers.
"They might take some time getting used to these new ideas like papier mache idols. But hopefully some young, environmentally-aware people might take up the idea," Naik said.
Ganesh Chaturthi, considered the most important Hindu religious festival in Goa, will be held in September.