From being infamous for noise pollution to becoming more responsible and environmentally conscious, Pune’s Ganesh Festival has come a long way and is bubbling with positive spirit…
Pune’s Ganesh Festival is traditionally known for being a platform for national and social consciousness thanks to Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, as it was then, the era of intense patriotism in an effort to free us from the clutches of the British rule. While this objective worked wonders, its relevance was lost once India gained freedom.
Thereafter, over the decades, the focus shifted to muscle power, wherein, political leaders across party lines began using Ganesh Mandals as a platform to identify and appease potential youngsters who could be their followers as well as Netas of tomorrow.
It did not take time for deterioration, as appeasement meant pampering the youth with money and condoning acts that lacked civic sense like the high-decibel music that blared on the streets and echoed in residential neighbourhoods.
The 1990s was by far, the worst decade when the image of the Ganesh Festival reached its nadir. I remember reporting about senior citizens and young students, leaving their houses to stay at relatives’ or friends’ homes that were in the outskirts of the city to avoid the assault from booming loudspeakers.
I also remember the heavy encroachment by Ganesh Pandals that at times crossed almost 50% of the road width. The ultimate shame was the brazen gambling dens, as part of the pandals and the alleged consumption of alcohol therein. Last but not least, the extortion in the name of donations for Ganesh Mandals had reached horrendous proportions.
The organisers of the Ganesh Mandals, clandestinely, or sometimes openly supported by political leaders, had developed so much arrogance that citizens feared them. They dared not complain against them for extortion, loud music or untoward behaviour in the Pandals.
It was the Express Citizens’ Forum, a formidable citizen pressure group, launched by The Indian Express, under the leadership of its editor, Prakash Kardaley; that took on the `Ganesh Mandal Mafia’ on the issue of pandals, encroaching extensively on roads and disrupting traffic, for all the ten days of the festival. The ECF drew up an action plan for the immediate need to have stringent norms for the size of the pandals, and submitted the same to the Pune Municipal Corporation. There was much hue and cry amongst the affected stakeholders and a couple of local politicians threatened to have ECF arrested.
However, thanks to the PMC and the ECF which managed this contentious issue sensitively, through dialogue with the Ganesh Mandal organisers, that measurements for the size of the pandals was chalked out and made official. That, no pandal can occupy more than one-third of the road space, was followed by most Ganesh Mandals. This good situation continues though there are still a few Mandals who violate these norms.
Once this was done, it was time for noise pollution with downmarket Bollywood music and songs, to be curtailed.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court’s verdict against noise pollution in the year 2000, which ordered ban on use of loudspeakers between 10pm and 6 am at all public places, applied to the Ganesh Festival too. Maharashtra Police, headquartered in Mumbai, issued a circular to all police commissionerates and rural police headquarters of all cities and towns including Pune to ban this noise pollution.
Citizens were asked to report any such violation to Police Control Room 100. Almost immediately, this rule was accepted by the Ganesh Mandals, though they requested for some concession for a couple of nights which was granted to them as a special case, by the state government.
Then came the menace of Ganesh idols made of plaster of Paris. With the ever-growing population of the city, the love for this benevolent Elephant God, families of all cultures and states who reside in Pune, bring him home for the 10 days. Naturally, the already deadpan Mula and Mutha rivers got choked, not only with the idols that were immersed and did not dissolve in the waters but also because of the nirmalya (flowers and garlands offered to Lord Ganesha).
Admirably, the PMC, took this up as a major issue and since the last decade or more, has been installing huge pots for disposing of the Nirmalya and water tanks on the banks of the rivers and in public gardens for immersing the idols. It has worked wonders as more and more people have changed their mindset about the traditional method of immersing idols in rivers only and moved to the environmentally friendly alternatives.
For the past three to four years, there is one more crowning glory for Pune thanks to its environmentally friendly and alert citizens. More and more people are opting for Ganesh idols made of clay which quickly dissolve in water; hence, many citizens immerse them in their own home or in the premises of their housing societies.
This year, the latest trend is of a embedding seeds in the Ganesh idol made of mud. Once, the festival is over, it will transform into a plant post immersion.
With so much cleansing in several areas of Ganesh celebrations, it is indeed heartening to note that the dark days of Ganesh Festival are over and the new age parents and their children are contributing enormously towards making it into a festival of hope and true joy.
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
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