| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI The immersion of thousands of statues
of Hindu gods containing toxic chemicals into India's rivers
and lakes every year poses a pollution threat as festivals
become increasingly commercialized, environmentalists said.
Hindus across India celebrate various religious festivals
in September and October, paying homage to deities like Lord
Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and Goddess Durga, the
destroyer of evil.
Elaborately painted and decorated idols are worshipped
before mass processions take them to nearby rivers, lakes and
the sea where they are immersed in accordance with Hindu faith.
But environmentalists say the idols are often made from
non-biodegradable materials such as plastic, cement and plaster
of Paris and painted using toxic dyes.
"The commercialization of holy festivals like Ganesh
Chaturthi and Durga Puja has meant people want bigger and
brighter idols and are no longer happy with the ones made from
eco-friendly materials," said Ramapati Kumar, a toxics
campaigner for Greenpeace India.
"Traditionally, the idols were made from mud and clay and
vegetable-based dyes were used to paint them but now it's more
like a competition between households and between corporates
who sponsor the idols to gain publicity."
Environmentalists said materials like plaster of Paris do
not dissolve easily and reduce the oxygen level in the water
resulting in the death of fish and other aquatic organisms.
Also, the paints used contain heavy metals such as mercury,
chromium and lead which are carcinogenous, said activists,
adding that this could adversely affect drinking water.
About 80 percent of India's 1.1 billion population are
Hindus but in recent years, their religious festivals and
customs have come under increasing scrutiny as public awareness
of environmental issues grows.
The spring festival of Holi involves the throwing of
colored powder but studies have found that the industrial
powders are often toxic and can cause asthma, temporary
blindness and even skin cancer.
"No one is saying that the immersion of idols should not
happen -- religious practices should be respected," said Suresh
Babu from the Centre for Science and Environment, an
"But the government should impose guidelines to craftsmen
who make the idols to use eco-friendly materials and organic
paints so that we give the environment as much respect as we