Cloths, polypacks, flowers haunt Yamuna again after Puja


New Delhi : The endangered Yamuna river here Monday reeled under the onslaught of Durga Puja immersions, with over 400 clay idols of the goddess and her four children along with holy offerings dumped into it – despite pleas to spare a thought for the environment.

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The river running through the eastern part of the capital is a mass “toxic polythene packs, non-biodegradable festival accessories and clay idols”, officials say. Several sewage channels are clogged with lengths of cloth, and tonnes of flowers, food and other offerings.

The Delhi government had tried to keep the immersion rites as green as possible with outreach programmes and guidelines. But only a handful of the 117 registered festival committees at Kalindi Kunj – and another unregistered 100 who brought their idols to the site – adhered to the norms.

“Barely five minutes after the clay idols of the deities were immersed into Yamuna at the Kalindi Kunj Ghat on the eastern periphery of the capital, we had instructed the artisans who crafted the idols to pull them out of water a few metres downstream from the site of immersion to prevent clogging of the stream and pollution,” Delhi-based hotelier Samrat Banerjee, who oversaw the festivities for four days at the Greater Kailash-II locality, told IANS.

“We also used the special Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) enclosure to immerse the idols.”

The immersions marked the end of the five-day Durga Puja, during which the goddess and her four children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartik were venerated with traditional fervour.

The Yamuna river traverses a length of 1,376 km across several states, but is little more than a drain in Delhi. This year, however, it did have more water than usual due to heavy rains. Kalindi Kunj, a special entertainment park on its bank, has been a traditional immersion site for Durga idols for several decades.

This year, the MCD had erected a special enclosure for immersion against a promise of 13 – but revellers who escorted the idols for immersions fanned out along the riverbank like every year.

Trucks ferrying the idols to the river stood in serpentine queues at the Okhla Barrage to access the immersion site.

A senior functionary of the Durga Utsav Committee in South Extension’s J-Block said the immersions continued till midnight. “We were stranded for more than three hours in the queue,” he said.

Delhi’s environment and forests ministry had instructed Durga Puja organisers to “comply with anti-pollution norms and use maximum bio-degradable materials like organic paints, bio-friendly paper, green fibres and natural decor that could either be recycled or ploughed back to nature”.

An official of the ministry said it “began to reach out to various organising committees of the festival three months before the Durga Utsav to ensure minimum pollution during immersions”.

“A couple of weeks ago, all the agencies involved in the festivities and in campaigns to raise environmental awareness were summoned to chalk out a blueprint for better coordination and implementation of the green guidelines during immersions,” a senior environment ministry official said.

In tandem with the directives issued at the meeting, several Durga Utsav committees had planned their immersion rites meticulously in advance – and decided to adhere to environmental norms.

An area was earmarked by the Delhi civic administration along the bank of the river to stow the idols away so that they could mingle with the earth. A joint immersion committee was also constituted to oversee the process.

But at the end of it, there was loads of non-biodegradable offerings.

After much-touted attempts to make the Durga Puja immersion rites compatible with environment norms floundered, the blame game in the Delhi government has begun.

Delhi Mayor Prithviraj Sahni told IANS that the Delhi government was entrusted with the responsibility of facilitating eco-friendly immersions and the Delhi Jal Board was assigned the task of keeping the drains and sewage channels draining into the Yamuna river free of non-biodegradable waste.

While the MCD refused to comment on the issue – with its crew of engineers ignoring queries from the media and passing the buck down the hierarchy – the New Delhi Municipal Council said it had “no role to play in the chaotic immersions”.

“We were not responsible for the immersions. We look after the sewage pollution in the river, which we have been trying to arrest for quite sometime. But our task has been made difficult by the 1,500 illegal squatters’ colonies that have sprung up in the capital. We cannot lay sewage infrastructure till the fate of these colonies is decided,” Senjam Cheema, a spokesperson for the Delhi Jal Board, told IANS.

“But we, alongside MCD, were involved in some amount of outreach programme to change the mindsets of people about immersion. The outreach is only a small component of the Yamuna Action Plan-II. The civic authority was in charge of immersions,” she said.