New Delhi: Three years ago, Manisha Sheth, Founder and Director of the non-governmental organisation, eCoexist foundation, launched ‘Punaravartan’ campaign, to give an eco-friendly makeover to one of the country’s biggest festivals – Ganesh Chaturthi. The aim was to encourage people to invest in Ganesh idols made from traditional material like natural clay also known as shaadu mitti.
Environmental Fallout of Ganesh Chaturthi
The holy festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated every year in September, with thousands of devotees thronging temples and ‘Ganeshotsav pandals’ to offer their prayers. The 10-day festivities culminate into the elephant headed god being immersed into water bodies. But this annual traditional farewell to the idols comes at a huge cost to the environment. Drenching of the idols has come down heavily on the environment. Most of the idols are made from non-biodegradable material like plaster of paris (POP) and other hazardous materials like plastics and chemical paints used for the decorations. Once the idols are immersed these end up contaminating the water bodies.
Ms Sheth’s eCoexist foundation has been campaigning for the use of eco-friendly Ganesh idols since 2007. Their focus initially was to shift people from purchasing idols created from materials like Plaster of Paris (POP) towards idols made out of natural materials, such as clay. The artisans, however, used Plaster of Paris (POP), as it was cheaper to access and lighter to work on, than clay. But in 2020, the Centre for Pollution Control Board (CPCB) banned the immersion of idols made out of POP and the whole focus shifted towards clay.
Ms Sheth said that the ban led to excessive use of the natural clay, which is also non-renewable. She said,
We observed that a lot more clay was being used, in hundreds and tonnes. Clay is non-renewable material usually mined in states like Gujarat and West Bengal and brought to Maharashtra and other parts of India to make idols. The whole process – mining, extraction and transportation, is known to cause health hazards for those working in the mines, besides degrading the natural resources in the areas where the clay is mined and the water bodies where the idols are immersed.
Ms Sheth wanted to make people realise that clay is a non-renewable resource but it is also a material that can easily be recycled. This was the beginning of the ‘Punaravartan’ campaign, in June 2020.
The campaign was started on a small scale, with the eCoexist team collecting some damaged idols, to test if the clay from these idols could be recycled, and it worked quite well. The artisans were also comfortable with the concept, Ms Sheth further said,
We then expanded this idea, by approaching people to conduct the immersion process at home, and then donate Ganesh idols for the recycling purpose.
The team collected about 30 kgs of clay through small donation drives, recycled it into a handful of idols and put it back into the market. By 2021, the campaign not only received a positive response from people but garnered support from 22 Non-Government Organisations of Pune, including Poornam Ecovision Foundation and Swachh Cooperative.
Dr Rajesh Manerikar, Founder of Poornam Ecovision, said,
There are more than two lakh Ganesh murtis that are established in Pune alone in household Ganpati festivals. So, imagine how much clay is immersed in the water every year? The Punaravartan campaign talks about reusing the product and keeping it in the loop for a long time. It is a move towards a circular economy and what is better than that.
There are about 100 collection centres across Pune, and each collection centre has a coordinator. The centres are kept open for two days during and after the festival. All of this is collected and handed over to the identified artisans.
Today, the campaign has spread to nine cities of Maharashtra including Nasik, Thane, Pimpri Chinchwad. Besides, the campaign is run in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad and Surat, Bengaluru in Karnataka and Hyderabad in Telangana.
The campaign has about 500 volunteers working in different cities and states. Munira Phaltanwala has worked as a campaign volunteer earlier and is now part of the core team. Talking about the significance of the campaign, she said,
The campaign raises awareness about moving towards a circular economy and develops a sense of re-utilising products, closing the loop and earning money out of it. It boosts the economic status of the artisans. Each artisan receives five to seven tonnes of clay, out of which nearly 1,500-2,000 idols can be created. So, the artisans do not spend any money buying fresh clay, and just have the profit from selling. This also encourages the artisans to opt for modern ways of recycling and earn an income out of it. Socially, the campaign is raising and bringing environment conscious citizens together in the form of volunteers.
The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) also came forward to support the campaign, and established multiple clay collection centres around the city.
The campaign began in 2020 with a small pilot experiment with only 30 kg of collection. In 2021, the clay collected was converted into idols to test if the market would accept recycled clay. Another round of minimal collection was done. By 2022, with the help of 22 organisations in Pune, the collection shot up to 23,000 kg of clay, which means 23 tonnes of clay was diverted from entering the water bodies, Manisha Sheth informed. This year, the campaign aims to collect between 50,000-1,00,000 kg of clay to return to artisans.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.