Immersing idols of Goddess Durga and other Hindu deities in rivers might be an age-old tradition, but the toxic material they are made of pose a grave threat to water bodies, aquatic life and human health, say environmentalists here, urging people to come up with alternative ideas.
Hundreds of idols of goddess Durga were immersed in the Ganges river here and other parts of Bihar Monday, marking the end of Durga Puja festivities, and experts warn of various repercussions of harming the river's eco-system.
"The river Ganges, which is already highly polluted, and its eco-system is under pressure and the immersed idols will create more trouble for the dolphins and the human population dependent on the river for drinking water," R.K. Sinha, a well-known expert on Gangetic dolphins, told IANS.
"It is an age-old practice to immerse idols in the river but modern idols pose a serious threat to the river and its aquatic life," he said.
Till a decade ago, idols were made of clay and decorated with vegetable colours and other biodegradable material. "Now idols are made of plaster of paris, synthetic colours and decorated with non-biodegradable material that are not at all friendly to the river," he stressed.
Sinha said it was high time Hindus, who consider the Ganges as a mother and treat its water as holy, stop killing the river by adding hundred of litres of paint and toxic materials to it every year and instead come up with innovate options for immersion.
"Either they should opt for burial of idols, which might be difficult to convince, or create a specific water body with the help of the government for immersion of idols instead of the Ganges," said Sinha, a zoology professor at Patna University.
Guddu Baba, who is associated with the Ganga Bachao Andolan, added: "It is a matter of serious concern that the government is sitting silent while the river is being targeted."
According to him, the Ganges has shifted its natural course two-three kilometres away from Patna at some places and the water level has also declined.
"If this practice continues, a day will come when there will be no water in the Ganga. Then where will people immerse idols?" said Baba, who has filed several public interest litigations (PIL) to save the river.
Sinha suggested "manmade water bodies" be used for immersing idols.
Heavy metals in the river water are highly dangerous for fish, which is finally eaten by, he noted.
Sinha expressed serious concern over the government neglecting the issue.
"The government has failed to initiate any move to persuade people to go for idols immersion elsewhere and no alternative facility has been created for it."
A report released by the international NGO Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) two years ago said the Ganges was among the 10 big rivers in the world facing extinction.