The riot of colours that engulfs Erumeli every year will now go green. The key base station of the Sabarimala pilgrimage throbs with round-the-clock business during the Mandalam-Makaravilakku season, but the festivities leave behind huge volumes of chemical-based colours.
Taking a serious note of the health hazards posed by the material to the pilgrims and to the environment, the authorities have proposed a blanket ban on the material in the upcoming season, which kicks off next month.
Plans are afoot to promote organic varieties of the brightly coloured powder, the bespattering of which constitutes an indispensable part of the Petta Thullal ritual.
District Collector P.K. Sudheer Babu has directed the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and the Erumeli panchayat to include the ban on such chemical powders as a condition for leasing out the seasonal shops here.
“A study by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (PCB) has pointed to the presence of hazardous metals, including lead, arsenic, and cadmium, in this powder. Besides causing skin troubles, it pollutes the soil and often gets washed into the waterbodies,” the Collector said.
The traders in the town will be introduced to an organic vermilion manufacturing unit under the Telangana State Agricultural University, from where they can purchase the stock. “The price is naturally on the higher side but it will only have a minuscule impact on the demand considering the purpose for which it is used,” he added.
The PCB officials said that mud samples from the riverbeds of the Manimalayar and nearby canals, including the Erumeli Thodu, where the pilgrims take a dip, showed presence of the harmful metals much above the permissible level.
“Since the Manimalayar is a major drinking water source to three districts, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, and Alappuzha, the chances of these potent chemicals entering the human body are very high,” said Jose Mon J., Environmental Engineer, PCB. The board is slated to release its report on the impact of the chemical powder on the region later this week. Though the High Court had ordered regulation of the material, it could not be implemented due to the shortage of organic alternatives.