Eco-warriors upset after Centre defers ban on use of Plaster of Paris for Ganesh idols by a year

Bringing a small measure of relief to artisans from Maharashtra and Gujarat, the central government on Friday postponed by a year the ban on the usage of Plaster of Paris (PoP) for making Ganesh idols.

Union minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar announced that the ban has been postponed for a year, taking into consideration the straitened circumstances of the artisans.

"The ban on PoP for making clay idols has been postponed for a year, considering the financial distress being faced by the idol makers," said Javadekar.

"In Maharashtra, a large number of statues are made of PoP, which are also supplied to different parts of the country. This year is a difficult year, which is why we have relaxed the ban so as to not pressure them further," he added.

Javadekar also tweeted the news.

Earlier this month, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had banned the usage of PoP idols, to avoid the pollution of waterbodies at the time of immersion. Oil paints used to decorate these PoP idols have high levels of toxic chemicals and heavy metals and studies of water quality before and after immersion have shown a marked increase in the concentration of hazardous heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium after immersion.

Every year, Ganpati Bappa visits between August and September. As it is one of the most important celebrations of Maharashtra, preparations begin well in advance, as major mandals start placing orders for idols six months ahead of the date.

But who would have factored a pandemic into their calculations? The coronavirus outbreak followed by the nationwide lockdown from March 25, extended four times, has reduced all of mankind's best-laid plans to dust. Many idol makers are yet to receive a single order.

Last week, The Free Press Journal had reported on the plight of the artisans after they learnt of the ban. However, on Friday, these same artisans appeared relieved and expressed gratitude to the Centre.

"It is a good thing that the government has heard us and understood our plight. It is sensible of them to understand the situation," said Akhilesh More, a third generation idol-maker, whose family has been in the business for more than six decades.

"We were already done with the rough crafting of several idols and at our workshop, had baked as many as 300. The continuation of the ban would have caused us such severe losses that we would have found ourselves on the streets," More added.

"Artisans prefer to work with PoP because the idols can be taller. If we make tall idols using clay, there are chances of these falling apart," said Kalpesh Kadam, a second-generation sculptor who has workshops in Kalyan and Malad.

"Who wants to harm nature? Environment is our mother too. If the government gets strict with the heights of idols, then everyone will gradually switch to clay from PoP," Kadam said.

However, the order has upset some green activists, who were glad to hear about the ban.

"The government has postponed the ban for a year, considering the financial crisis of the artisans. However, they must remember this and should not forget it next year because the sea and waterbodies need immediate attention," said a green activist and conservationist from the city, Rohan Taneja.

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