When Asha Rane, 37, visited an on-going exhibition of eco-friendly clay Ganesh idols at the Siddhivinayak temple at Prabhadevi last weekend, she decided it was time to switch from the polluting Plaster of Paris (PoP) idols.
After a 20-minute walk through the week-long exhibition, Rane walked out paying Rs2,000 as a booking advance for a small clay idol - her first time ever since she began keeping the idol at home.
Ganesh Chaturthi is still five months away but like Rane, many others booked eco-friendly Ganesha idols at an exhibition organised by Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), Nirmaljyot Charitable Trust and Shri Siddhivinayak Temple Trust with the aim to increase the use of clay idols during this year's celebrations.
According to MPCB, more than 3,000 idols have already been booked for household celebrations this year. This is in stark contrast to 2010 when only 3,000 clay idols were bought though the number soared to 18,000 in 2011. This year, MPCB expects 50,000 idols will be bought.
"One can imagine the pollution caused by harmful chemicals based on the scale at which the festival is celebrated in the city, All these years we have been using conventional idols, so why not use the clay one, which us a good alternative and the idols look equally elegant and pleasant," said Rane, a Worli resident.
The Ganesh idols made of shadu (clay) dissolve in water within an hour after immersion compared to PoP idols that are non-biodegradable.
"This year, the campaign for eco-friendly Ganesha idols will be more aggressive. A week prior to the festival, thirty stalls will be put up across the city where people can buy clay idols," said Sanjay Bhuskute, public relations officer, MPCB. "We are also launching a website dedicated to this drive on May 1 with a list of clay idol makers."
The eco-friendly idols also attracted sizeable demand from the expatriate community.
Ashish Kapila, a city businessman, has booked 1,000 idols that will be exported to non-resident Indians residing in Los Angeles, Nairobi and New York.
"Authorities in the US are very strict about any kind of pollution. Hence, clay idols are the best option for those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi," said Kapila, owner of Kapila exports.
Realising the demand for eco-friendly idols, idol makers have increased production.
"This year, we are making 30,000 idols, which is 10,000 more than last year. We get the clay from Rajkot and Bhavnagar in Gujarat, which dissolves in water in almost thirty minutes," said Chaitanya Tagde, an idol maker with Shri Ganesh Kala Kendra.