Should we celebrate at the cost of our Environment

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By  Dr. Debadutta Mishra

Seasons of autumn, winter & spring are the seasons of festivals and festivities for different Indian communities. Starting from Ganesh chaturthi, through Durga Puja, Diwali, and until Holi, we celebrate a trail of a wide spectrum of rituals and celebrations as part of our rich cultural heritage. There is no doubt that celebration o these traditions and festivals play great role in maintaining religious and spiritual reinforcement the midst of natur’s rhythm, seasonal changes and the cycle of life and death. This also helps in maintaining unity and integrity in the society.

We begin the celebrations in the name of culture and then make them so much commercial and artificial that we ignore the far reaching consequences of air, water and soil pollution caused by these celebrations and the impacting economic burden on our society.

Water Pollution
We are careless about how we are polluting our limited drinking water resources, through the practice of idol immersion in various ponds and lakes. According to a study approximately 1.5 lakhs of Ganesh idols are immersed in Mubai sea beaches, whereas in West Bengal, about 50,000 idols are immerged in the Ganges after Durga puja. The problem is spread throughout the country and due to use of many non-biodegradable substances for making such idols the natural aquatic ecological balance is totally destroyed.

It is found that after immersion of idols, the concentration of substances like calcium, magnesium, molybdenum, silicon and heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury increases after immersion of idols into the water bodies. Metals like lead and mercury are hazardous to our health as they can damage the heart, kidney, liver, circulatory system and central nervous system.

A joint survey by the Indian Toxicology Research Institute and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board found that one gram of color used for painting the idols has a high quantity of lead, ranging from 6 to 10 micrograms.  Heavy metals like lead, cadmium and chrome used in the paints are not easily assimilated in an aquatic environment, leading to contamination of water bodies thereby affecting various fish and prawn species.

They reach human body through food chain, affecting heart, kidney, liver and nervous system and causing memory loss, allergic reactions, hypertension, depression, mood swings, irritability, poor concentration, fatigue, sleep disorders, vascular occlusion, neuropathy, auto immune diseases and many other deadly diseases. They also massively affect the flora and fauna of river, pond, lake and coastal areas.

Another major pollutant is plaster of paris, which is based on Calcium sulphate hemihydrates and is now replaced clay for making bigger and colorful idols. When idols made of plaster of paris are immersed in water, they change their form to gypsum slowly, adding hardness to the water. As this is insoluble in water, it contaminates water bodies by forming an impermeable layer on the bottom of pond or lake. Along with idols decoration materials viz: clothes, polish, paint, ornaments, cosmetic items, flower garlands, bamboo sticks, polythene bags etc. also goes in to water bodies resulting in alarming increase in pollution levels. Studies also show that oxygen level of water bodies falls by about 50% immediately after massive immersion of idols.

Air Pollution
The air pollution level in our big cities is always a growing cause of concern, with the “Respiratory Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) in dust, fumes, smoke and gases, a way above permissible limits. This level further takes a quantum jump during festivals, the main culprit being crackers, inflammable substances and artificial colors/fumes. The main toxins which are discharged in to the atmosphere are oxides of Nitogen, oxides of Sulphur, acidic gases, hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, oxides etc.

Crackers manufactured using barium suphate, sodium nitrate, sulphur and potassium chlorate, and sometimes using cheap materials like mica, acids, alkalis and pieces of glass, when burnt during Diwali and other festivals, emit gases such as sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, oxides of heavy metals and particulates that pollute air and cause eye irritation, abrasion, respiratory disorders, allergies and even cancer. These air pollutants impacts widely the human vision, health, and can lead to lung cancer, cardiovascular complications etc. and also can affect vegetation.

Due to lack of a strict enforcement of environmental laws, pollution of various types is generated in large amounts all across the country, a majority of which is due to the unnecessary pompous celebration of religious festivals and which coupled with poor knowledge of waste disposal management, not only leading to devastating consequences but also have irreversible and far reaching consequences of environmental degradation.

Economic Burden
In India where 37.3% of rural and 22.5% urban population are below poverty line, do we justify the money spent on ceremonies and festivals as a worthy expense? Where people do not have enough money to get food twice daily, but still they are saving something for ceremonies. In a survey conducted by some professional microfinance institutions, households were asked about the types of loss or unexpected spending they have experienced in the last one year.

42% have claimed  to have experienced “crop loss” & 38.5% claimed to have  “livestock loss” but, surprisingly, 81.5% of the households responded that they have spent some money on “marriage, funeral & ceremony expenses” in the last year. Despite of the recent devastating flood situation in different states, the festivals did not lose their luster and tempo. This is seen that on an average Rs. 5-10 lakh is spent on a Durga Pandal, which involves use of bamboo, wooden planks, clothes and lots of labor and architect. This way we spend crores of Rupees lavishly for the sake of satisfying our pseudo-religious sentiments.

Because of the above reasons our rich culture has turned into a vulture biting us physically, socially and economically. The readers must think, whether should we celebrate at the cost of our environment and economy or should we proceed towards making our celebrations eco-friendly and take development issues at the priority.

Remedies
We need to have strict laws enforcing prevention of air and water pollutions. The Puja committees should get registered under legal framework of Govt. and should follow strict guidelines to use eco-friendly methods of celebration and cases may be fought to prevent any misuse of the laws during festivals.

The youth and puja committees who enjoys the pride and privilege of collecting chanda and celebrating various pujas, should come forward to think of infrastructure and development issues at the priority, for example: they can minimize the decorum of Puja in a season and take responsibility to develop a nearby poor infrastructure like bus stop, or a toilets inside bus stop, which shall be permanent in nature.

Instead of temporary idols, we should think of stone or metal idols which are permanent and can be worshipped every year. If Idols are to be immersed, make sure they are made with clay and natural colors and not with chemical colors and non-biodegradable materials like plastics, thermocol etc. Flowers and other biodegradable materials used in worship may be used for composting. Lets not celebrate festivals blindly, lets be spiritual and religious in true sense.

(Dr. Debadutta Mishra Currently working in CSR of Jindal Steel and Power Limited, Raigarh, Chhattishgarh and looking after disability rehabilitation and development issues. Earlier worked at Jewels International, Bhubaneswar and Byrraju Foundation, Hyderabad and having total experience of more than 10 years. Academic background: MBA, MDRA (Masters of Disability Rehabilitation Administration), Bachelor in Occupational Therapy)

He can be reached at ddmishraonline@gmail.com

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