Activists have urged residents to buy only idols made of raw clay without any glitter or paint this Ganesh Chathurthi. At least 50% of the idols being immersed in the sea and inland waterbodies are washed to the shore the next day due to non-eco friendly material being used in their making.
Anantoo of Restore said that it would keep the cost of the clay models at a bare minimum and ordinary artisans can be helped this way. “Clay models are eco-friendly and that is how people used to celebrate the festival by taking clay from waterbodies, making the idols and putting the clay back from where it was taken,” he said.
Environmentalist Foundation of India’s Arun Krishnamurthi said that when the idols are immersed in a waterbody after the festival, people should ensure that thermocol and plastics are not let into the water. Over the summer, the water spread of inland waterbodies would have shrunk and when stuff like glitter and paint containing lead is released, the level of distress increases. The water can take the arugam grass or erukku flowers, but not plastic umbrellas or cloth, he said.
In the case of larger idols that are kept in pandals on street corners, activists and artisans have called for action from the government to prevent the use of plaster of Paris, artificial colours and gums in the making of the idols for the festival.
S. Saroja of Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group suggested that the government must ensure that these artisans were trained in making the idols out of sago flour and papier mache. “After this year’s festival, they must be trained and next year before the festival, the idols should be checked before being sent to the market,” she said.
An artisan said that small idols could be made using eco-friendly items but not the larger ones. “Some agency should conduct tests on different material, find their strength and then provide training to the artisans. Agencies such as District Industries Centre or Development Commissioner of Handicrafts could be roped in for the same,” said V. K. Munusamy, terracotta and clay idol maker and Padma Award-winner.
Sources in the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board said that around 70% of the idols were made with natural material. “We are continuing to create awareness among the artisans so that others too convert,” said an official source.