On any day in the month preceding Ganesh Chaturthi, the Nunna mango market near Vijayawada becomes a beehive of activity. While some workers are busy sculpting Ganesh idols, others are engrossed in giving finishing touches to them.
Despite clear guidelines from the Central Pollution Control Board to only use idols made of clay and shun those made of Plaster of Paris (PoP), most of the over-6,000 idols in the market here are made of PoP.
Every idol, ranging from seven to ten feet in height, has the same set of eyes and other facial features. The difference lies in the design, colours and background. While one idol has an angry-looking Lord Hanuman next to it, another has the Ayodhya temple as the backdrop with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ written on it.
“There is a craze for it. A lot of people are sentimental about the Ram Mandir issue in Ayodhya,” says Ritesh, an artist who came up with the idea. He is confident that this idol will see a lot of takers.
His employer, Iswarappa, says they are laying stress on unique designs and creativity to attract buyers at a time when the public is being encouraged to buy eco-friendly idols. “People like new themes, new colours. The Ayodhya-themed one will not be sold for less than ₹50,000,” says Mr. Iswarappa, who invested more than ₹30 lakh in the business.
“The problem with making a shift to idols made of mud is that they are prone to getting damaged during transport. We invest a lot of money in this business, and we cannot afford to make losses. When people in Hyderabad are going for PoP, why cannot the buyers from here do the same?” he asks.
Idols from here are exported to places up to 100 km around Vijayawada and also to faraway places in the State.
Doctor and environmental scientist Ajay Katragadda, who founded the Amaravati Walkers’ and Runners’ Association (AWARA), says that the colours used in PoP idols are dangerous. “Metanil yellow is carcinogenic. They enter the food chain as when the idols are immersed in water bodies, the chemicals are consumed by fish which are in turn consumed by humans,” explains Prof. Katragadda.
While the association, through sustained campaigns, has succeeded in bringing an end to the immersion of idols in the Krishna river, the professor says the practice is still in vogue on the sly now and then. The idols are nowadays being immersed in canals, further polluting the water bodies, he said.
He said while it is good that households are preferring to go for clay idols, more steps need to be taken to bring about a similar change in pandals too.
B.V. Prasad, senior environmental scientist, A.P. Pollution Control Board, says the responsibility of discouraging public from using PoP idols rests with municipal authorities.
“The board monitors quality in all water bodies for a month after immersions. But the municipal authorities have to ensure that the guidelines from the Pollution Control Board are followed rigorously. It is, however, to be noted that water bodies get polluted more due to discharge of domestic sewage or solid waste generated by cities than that of immersion of idols,” Mr. Prasad said.
Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) Commissioner Swapnil Dinkar Pundkar said that on their part, they have stopped letting out their spaces to shops that sell PoP idols.