Eco-friendly idols are heavily promoted, and Plaster of Paris idols have been banned. Yet, the eco-friendly idol sellers face consistent loss.
The sellers of eco-friendly Ganesha idols say they are facing a loss of 50 to 60 percent over the last few years. However, Plaster of Paris (PoP) idols have been banned since 2014.
M. Teerthagiri of Shri Vinayaka enterprises said that a 5 feet tall PoP idol costs Rs. 15,000 while, a clay idol of the same size costs Rs. 6000 – less than half of the PoP idol’s cost. A paper pulp idol costs even lesser – Rs. 5000, he added. However, customers said they preferred PoP idols as they come in various designs and are easier to transport. His company used to deal exclusively in clay and paper idols till 2017, but due to losses the company has started selling PoP idols.
Several sellers on Vanivilas Road, near Lalbagh Botanical Garden, said that this festival season has been even less profitable. They had sold around 20 percent of their clay idol stock by Sept. 14, 2021 (that is mid-Ganesha festival). Mr. Ram Krishna Kumar of Vinayaka Company attributes this to the combined effect of the pandemic, changing government regulations and low durability of the clay idols.
Mr. Naveen Kumar, another seller, explained that clay idols are heavier and more fragile than the PoP ones. The clay idols also take longer to make as they are produced individually and no two idols are the same. PoP idols on the other hand, are made out of molds and can be mass produced. He also said that the plaster allows for complex designs, is lighter than clay and can be easily transported.
PoP idols are made of gypsum. Research shows that when such idols are immersed in water, they take time to dissolve. This forms a layer at bottom of the water body, which causes a decrease in oxygen levels in the water. Also, the paint used increases the concentration of magnesium, arsenic, lead, silicon, mercury and calcium in the water.
Clay idols however dissolve into clay, a few hours after they are immersed. Similarly, paper idols, made of dried pulp of old newspapers, disintegrate into their base form after dissolution.
Dr. A. N. Yellappa Reddy, chairman of Bangalore Environment Trust, said, “The purpose of Vinayaka (Ganesha) Visarjan is to enrich the ecologically depleted water bodies with clay rich in organic matter. Using PoP idols starts a vicious cycle of water pollution, which in turn affects everything from the fields it irrigates to the food we eat.”
Several NGOs in the city have been promoting the use of eco-friendly idols. Mr. Shiva Kumar Hosamani of Samarpana Samstha, an NGO said, “The biggest hurdle is that pandals prefer huge, decorative idols. Clay idols cannot be built above 4 to 5 feet tall.” While the state government had imposed a 4 feet limit on the idols this year, they relaxed the conditions after the festival started.
In 2014, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and the state government had imposed a ban on the sale, use and manufacture of PoP idols. The sellers opposed this ban as they had a lot of PoP stock left. In 2017, PoP idol sellers filed a petition against this in the Karnataka High Court, which upheld the ban. The sellers revealed that due to the ban they had to source PoP idols from Kolhapur and Solapur – border districts of Maharashtra. The clay idols are made in workshops in the city. From 2019 onwards, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and KSPCB have imposed fines of Rs. 10,000 on those who immerse PoP idols.