The 10-day Durga Puja, which celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura, is a very popular festival, and generally attended by thousands of people.

This year, the Yamuna River, a tributary to the Ganges, was granted the accolade, and after the conclusion of the festival over the weekend, is choked with plastic, flowers and debris from hundreds of idols that were immersed in Indian waterways.

During the festival, massive elaborate likenesses of Durga, usually depicted with 10 arms and riding a lion, were paraded through cities and villages by devotees. At the conclusion of the festival on Saturday, the idols were cast into the waters, symbolising the goddess’ return to her mythological home on Mount Kailash.

Unfortunately this has resulted in the waterways being left dense with debris, rubbish and flowers, especially in large population centres such as Delhi, whose main river, the Yamuna, is already one of the most polluted in India.

Indian courts have attempted to lessen the environmental damage by banning the immersion of idols made from non-biodegradable materials such as gypsum plaster. The immersions are only permitted in select areas of the river in some cities such as Delhi, with the designated areas being fenced off to prevent pollution flowing into the stream.

Unfortunately, according to environmental lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay, there was little enforcement of the court orders in the Indian capital.

“There is no check on whether a particular idol is biodegradable, or whether the non-biodegradable material has been removed before the idol is immersed,” he said. Nor was there a coordinated effort to manage the use or clean-up of the Yamuna after the festival, he added.

The immersions have taken place in some form since at least the 14th century, but the sheer scale of modern ceremonies was overwhelming the Yamuna.

It actually boggles the mind that, in a country that is struggling with water shortages and in which the majority of citizens do not have access to clean drinking water, this is allowed to happen year after year.

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