Hundreds of idols of Goddess Durga were Wednesday immersed in Yamuna river from a bank near a bird sanctuary and park in the national capital, choking the dying river further and raising concerns over upsetting the area's ecological balance.
Since afternoon of Mahadashami -- the final day of the five-day Durga Puja -- more than 100 trucks, packed with devotees, had lined up along the riverbank in Kalindi Kunj to immerse idols of Goddesses Durga, Laxmi and Saraswati and Lords Ganesha and Kartik.
The clay idols were being towed towards the river by three cranes at strategic locations on the river's edge. Beats of drums and cries of "Jai Mata Di" rented the air. Throngs of devotees smeared with coloured powder were dancing in a frenzy.
Several checks such as recycling projects and removal of polluting waste from the clay idols had been put in place to stop the flow of effluents into the river. But nothing seemed enough.
Kalindi Kunj is near a bird sanctuary and a park full of trees overlooking a river choking with chemical foam and sedimented islets.
Statistics say at least 200 idols are immersed from Kalindi Kunj.
The capital has three more such immersion sites for 760 registered Durga idols -- Geeta Ghat, Kudsia Ghat and Jagatpur.
"Multiply the 760 with four idols of Goddess Durga's children and you have nearly 3,000 idols going into the river in a day," said Madhumita Puri, who collects ceremonial flowers from the sites under a 'Trash to Cash' recycling project.
"This year, the administration has erected two enclosures to collect floral and non-biodegradable waste for recycling. We have thrown all the flowers, pots, textiles clothing and accessories of the idols there," Arun Chowdhury Thakur, a member of the Mayur Vihar Phase III Durga Puja committee, told IANS.
He pointed to a red marquee along an elevated ledge on the bank littered with rotting flowers and ritual waste.
Chowdhury Thakur is alarmed by the sight of the frothing river and its toxic overload.
"We are not eco-friendly. We immerse the idol as it is with the bamboo frame. This has been the tradition for 13 years," he said.
N.K. Thakur of the Palam Vihar Durga Puja committee, said: "Something must be done to save the river. We do not want to immerse the bamboo frames henceforth".
Shankar Roy Chowdhury from Dakshin Puri said the immersion points have to be relocated further down the river outside the city limits.
"We have approached the government for new immersion points, but it is sitting on the demand," he told IANS.
A government estimate says 19 sewer channels drain urban waste into the river at various points in the capital and NCR.
A study of The Energy and Resources Institute says toxins from the river have entered the groundwater along the riverbank and affected vegetation.
This year, the environment ministry and irrigation ministry have told the municipal corporations to clean up Kalindi Kunj within a week of immersion, Assistant Commissioner of Police Vipin Kumar Nayyar said.
"There are four rescue boats, 300 policemen and four watch-towers to monitor activity at the immersion point," he told IANS.
But it is a tough task to clean up the river, he said, looking at the polluted river amid the show of faith.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)