Go green seems to be the mission with a vision for several puja committees in Kolkata this year as they vow to abstain from the use of plastic, in keeping with the Central government’s restrictions on single-use plastic items.
While these puja committees have declared their intention to go plastic-free, still others are decorating their pandals with sustainable products to send out a message against plastic pollution.
Crowd-pullers like Chetla Agrani and Salt Lake EE Block have already started working on their pandals with a ‘no plastic’ theme. Chetla Agrani is working with the bark of banana trees to show that eco-friendly material can be an ideal replacement for plastic.
“Banana trees are found almost everywhere in Bengal. They often die naturally after a year or stop bearing fruit. We have extracted fibre from the bark of such dead or barren trees. We are trying to show that the fibre can be used to make bags, saris and bedcovers,” said Samir Ghosh, convener of Chetla Agrani.
Artist Manas Roy has taken a similar approach at Salt Lake EE Block Puja as he is decorating the pandal with paper bags and traditional Bengali earthen pots. “Paper can not only replace polythene but can also help thousands of people earn a livelihood. Besides, earthen pots and utensils, once a symbol of the Bengali joint family, have been replaced with plastic and glasses in the nuclear setup. We want to show that these can be suited to our daily life,” he said.
No-plastic puja premises
Behala Nutan Sangha is decorating its pandal with Bengali folk art by using bamboo, iron and cloth. “The entire puja premises will be declared as a ‘no-plastic zone’ and we’ll use only paper bags for bringing puja flowers and fruits. We’ll also urge the visitors not to enter the puja premises with plastic bags and bottles,” said puja committee spokesperson Abhishek Bhattacharjee.
Saswata Bose of Hatibagan Sarbojanin said they had not used plastic in their puja pandal for a long time and would continue to do so. “We use eco-friendly materials even for basic pandal-making equipment.”
The best platform to spread awareness about plastic?
From a regional celebration, Durga Puja has become one of the biggest platforms of installation art over the years.
“Especially after the UNESCO Heritage tag, the entire world looks at us. So, we must take up global causes. There is no better platform if we want to boost public awareness,” said Abhishek Bhattacharjee.
An artist works with banana tree bark at Chetla Agrani.
Highlighting the global scale of plastic pollution, Manas Roy said the message against such man-made menace had to be spoken loud and clear. “Durga Puja has a deep connection with people and almost always touches an emotional chord. So, when a message is spread through this festival, it’s much more effective,” he added.
Green activists, however, remain sceptical about the effectiveness of any awareness campaign without strict implementation of the law by the authorities. “It’s a great effort taken by puja committees. Such initiatives should not stop just after five days of Puja. Plastic is not going to disappear anytime soon unless there is a cost-effective alternative in the market,” said environmentalist Subhas Dutta.
“With such initiatives, 10 out of 100 people will become aware about plastic pollution — that’s great. This could be a very good starting point towards a sustainable future,” he added.
Environmentalist Jayanta Basu, who is also secretary of EnGIO, echoed the same sentiment. “Durga pujas themed on environmental topics started around 2008. But it was not very common back then. I still remember that I had seen only one puja with a green theme in 2008. After several awards were declared for the green theme, clubs started to come forward. One in every four clubs go for such themes these days. Even though their initiatives are largely symbolic, I would welcome such efforts,” he said.