A sanitation worker sweeps the area where idols of Ganesha are displayed for sale ahead of the festival on the outskirts of Hyderabad on September 7, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Hyderabad: Coming down heavily on the reluctance of the State Pollution Control Board to take action, the Telangana High Court has directed the authorities not to allow the immersion of idols made of Plaster of Paris in water bodies.

Dealing with a contempt of court petition filed by an advocate M Venu Madhav, a division bench comprising of acting Chief Justice MS Ramachandra Rao and Justice T Vinod Kumar asked the officials of the Board, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and the Police, to ensure that the “principle of polluter pays” was implemented strictly.

The matter came just a couple of weeks before the Ganesh festival in which thousands of big idols made of Plaster of Paris are immersed in Hussain Sagar and dozens of other lakes in and around Hyderabad, causing high level of pollution.

Venu Madhav in his contempt of court petition had drawn the attention of the court that the officials had failed to carry out the previous orders in respect of stopping the immersion of such idols.

The court also asked officials why they were confining the action against the polluters only to industries.

“Mere encouragement to clay idols may not serve the purpose. Create the fear of law in minds of people. You are apparently not prepared to do that”, the court said warning the officials that it would not accept such lackadaisical attitude.

Every year huge Ganesh idols made of PoP and iron and decorated with chemical paints are immersed over almost a week to mark the end of the festival.

While the tradition of a massive procession carrying such big idols in thousands of trucks from all parts of the city to Hussain Sagar lake was continuing for more than four decade, environmental activists were campaigning and waging a legal battle to stop this practice and save the lake.

Various measures by the government to control the immersion were met with furious opposition from the Bhagyanagar Ganesh Utsav Samiti, a BJP controlled organization.

But the court said that it was not willing to give any further time to restrict the practice.

The judges dismissed the argument of a government counsel Radhive Reddy that National GreenTribunal had rule in cases of Maharashtra and Gujrat that Plaster of Paris was not that dangerous.

“Don’t give us the examples of Maharashtra and Gujarat as Ganesh idols there are immersed in oceans. In Hyderabad we do it in Hussain Sagar lake whose existence is threatened each passing year because the state never gave it a serious thought”, the court said adding that the Central Pollution Board had banned the PoP.

More than four centuries old man-made lake, once used to meet the drinking water needs of Hyderabad is now reduced to a highly polluted and stinking tank. The court observed that neither it was being cleaned regularly nor being desilted.

The court had ordered in the past that no idol should be more than 10 feet high and they should be immersed in specially built ponds. The petitioner said: “GHMC did set up such ponds in Hyderabad but hardly put them to use”.

In a flagrant violation of the court directives, the tallest idol of more than 40 feet high has been installed this year at Khairatabad mandap. The organizers of the mandap said that in the past the idol used to be about 60 feet high and they have reduced the height now.