Untreated water from visarjan ponds pumped into storm drains leading to sea, other water bodies

MUMBAI :AT AN artificial pond, especially dug up for Ganpati visarjan in central Mumbai, the water was milky white with ribbons of oil in red and blue hues. It was day 8 of the 11-day Ganpati festival and four visarjan days had gone by.

However, on this day, there were no immersions. Only workers, pumping water out of the pond, with its contents —paint and plaster of paris (PoP) — directly into the nearest storm water drain.

There are 32 such artificial immersion sites across the city, where over 30,000 idols have already been immersed and thousands more will be immersed on Thursday.

The sites, each with separate ponds for PoP and clay idols, were set up in 2008 in response to environmental concerns borne from mass immersion of idols in the Arabian Sea.

Over the past few years, however, people thronging to these ponds have increased. Starting with around 4,000 idols in the first year, the number has steadily increased to over 30,000 idols that are immersed in these ponds now.

Depending on their size and material, the idols could contain anything from the most environment-friendly mud to fibre glass and plastic, PoP and heavy metals from the paint used to colour the idols.

The ponds came up on an initiative by Mayor Shubha Raul after environmentalists flagged that the material that goes

into the making of these idols pollute the waters off the Mumbai coast, where most immersions take place. witnessed at a site in Dadar appeared to be at odds with the purpose of the ponds. The water being pumped out of the pond into the storm water drain will directly be transported into the sea without any treatment. The parts of the idols that are insoluble go into the nearest water body — river or sea.

Narendra Barde, Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Zone II, in-charge of visarjan activities, said, “As of now, we immerse the remains of Ganesha idols from the artificial pond into the sea or nearby river body as we don’t have a mechanism in place to recycle the remnants. The water from the artificial pond is flushed down the storm water drain.”

The water in which clay idols are immersed could be used for gardening. Barde said the decision on the final disposal of the water was taken by officials in each ward.

The ponds each have a capacity ranging between 10,000 litres and 1,00,000 litres and can hold up to 7,000 to 17,000 idols at a time.

Once the water is pumped out and released into the storm water drain, what remains is silt from the clay and PoP and some insoluble remnants. The flowers and leaves (nirmalya) are collected in urns to be converted into manure, Barde said.

On the eighth day of the Ganpati festival, on an average five trucks, each with a capacity of 7 to 7.5 tonnes, collected the silt separately from the 32 immersion sites and transported it to the city’s two dumping grounds – Mulund and Deonar – in the eastern suburbs.

As for the idol parts, ward officials transport them to the sea or nearest water body and immerse them there. Environmentalists say the purpose of setting up artificial ponds was being defeated.

“Artificial ponds are the biggest sham. The untreated water is directly released into drains, creeks, sea and other water bodies, remains of idols are immersed into the sea in a clandestine manner. This results in heavy metals being released into water bodies and entering the food system through fishes. The regional pollution control board should immediately take up the matter,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti.

“Instead of dumping it at landfill sites, there are many ways that PoP and clay can be reused. PoP can be mixed with cement to be used as construction material. The clay can be reused by idol makers,” said Subhajit Mukherjee from Green Mumbai Mission.

One ward-level official said sometimes there were requests from local idol makers to reuse the PoP and clay. “When such requests come in, we give it to them. However, such requests are not regular.”

At Krida Kendra, Dadar, the site of an immersion pond, officials said this year, they will not be disposing of insoluble remnants into the sea. A waste management company has written to the BMC to provide the remains to be crushed into smaller size pieces measuring 50 mm. The recycling company has assured that these pieces will be transported to cement companies.