Puja at Rabindra Sarovar: Religious sentiments vs environmental concern

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Kolkata: Rising pollution and environmental issues might have become a focal point of discussion in many Indian cities, including national capital Delhi, but it seems, like Kolkata is yet to wake up to the cause.

As in recent Chhath Puja celebration, little attention to the directives and instructions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) paid by those celebrating the festival as well as the authorities.  Thousands of people forced themselves into Rabindra Sarovar after breaking the locks of the gates and jumping over the bamboo barricades to perform the puja rituals, officials informed.

In the previous two years, Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority or KMDA was quite unsuccessful in preventing the scores of people from flocking to the Lake Area. However, despite being better prepared this year with prior experience and regular meetings held with the community before the festival, the officials failed to control the enthusiastic crowd.

Ecology expert believe that the damage done to the Green Zone is irreversible. In spite of clean up drives for the last few days, the Lake—home to almost a hundred different species of aquatic animals—reeks of rotten flowers, reflect the damage done. The underwater layers mirrored the presence of empty packets of milk, incense sticks and even, burnt firecrackers. Carcasses of dead fishes and turtles were found on the water surface, indicating the catastrophic destruction that has been wrought on the otherwise peaceful atmosphere of the Sarovar area.

Kolkata green zone rabindra sarovar chhath puja pollution ecology environment
Another photograph of dead fishes in the Sarovar, shared widely on social media/FB

But in the current chaotic situation, guards blaming the numbers of devotees coming in while the Mayor had made it clear that its the impossibility of suppressing expression of any religious belief by using force.

Many of the local residents hint at unawareness as the primary reason. “Maybe, they were not aware of the alternate sites or that this was something illegal. I think this is an uproar made to appear more serious than it is”, said one resident, who demanded anonymity.

A number of other people also indicated at how the ancestral history of doing the Puja annually at the Lake Area, instigated the forceful entry this year. “Yeh Hamara Riwaaz Hai, Band Kar De Kiya? Baap-Dada Ke Zamane Se Chal Raha Hai (It’s our ritual, should we stop it? It’s going on since the time of our ancestors”),” reacted another anonymous source.

“I completely understand that saving the environment should be everyone’s priority right now but at the same time disregarding any religious practices or beliefs is completely incorrect. The religious sentiment behind Chhath Puja is really strong. Instead of just brutally shutting down the gates there could have been certain restrictions regarding the use of polluting items. I am not trying to justify the violence but I cannot ignore the fact that that lake has been the ideal location for Chhath Puja over the years,” said Hrishita Kumar, a college student.

Petitions have been filed against the misuse of the Green Zone, alongside on-going protests on a national level.

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