Mora Kotal, a low tidal variation, made immersion of idols a tough task this Dashami but a group of nearly 400 labourers from various parts of the Sundarbans pulled off the challenge efficiently across the 16 major banks of the Hooghly, where around 2,500 idol sets were immersed.
These men from Canning, Joynagar, Basanti, Gosaba, Sandeshkhali and other adjoining areas toil hard every year for a paltry payment.
These labourers also contact major clubs and help lift the idols once they reach the ghats. They also carry the idols to the ghats and immerse them in the water.
“We work in groups and hardly earn Rs 1,000 despite working from early noon till after midnight on the day of immersion,” said Sailen Haldar from Canning, who has been doing this for the past 28 years.
The labourers frequent the ghats after Durga and Jagaddhatri pujas in search of work.
“It is no mean feat. These men have the skill to carry the idols and immerse them in the Hooghly. Today, they skilfully handled the immersion of so many idols though the water level was low because of a tidal variation,” an official of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation said.
While there were about 200 such labourers on the three major ghats – Baje Kadamtala Ghat, Judges Ghat and Nimtala Ghat – another 200 were at work in the rest of the ghats.
The number of idols immersed at Judges Ghat stood at 772, Baje Kadamtala Ghat and Nimtala Ghat witnessed immersion of 449 and 332 idols respectively, according to KMC sources.
Close to 800 idol sets were immersed in the northern part of the city beyond Nimtala Ghat. Doi Ghat on the city's southern fringe witnessed more than 100 immersions.
“We saw a huge number of immersions on Wednesday. About 2,500 puja committees took part in the immersions out of 3,500 pujas held in the city. The water level was extremely low owing to the Mora Kotal tide, making it extremely difficult,” said Debasish Kumar, mayoral council member.
Kumar, who has been overseeing the immersion for over a decade, said he has hardly seen such low water levels during immersion earlier.
The number of idols immersed at Judges Ghat stood at 772, Baje Kadamtala Ghat and Nimtala Ghat witnessed immersion of 449 and 332 idols respectively, according to KMC sourcesThe Plurals
A senior Kolkata Port Trust official also said the water level in the Hooghly is currently low. The highest high tide level on Dashami was about 4.8 metres around 10am, a port trust official said. “During the peak hours of immersion, the water level stood at around 3 to 4 metres,” the official said.
The low water level brought immersion to a halt at Baje Kadamtala Ghat on Dashami evening as a heap of idols lay on the water. A crane had to be pressed into service to remove the idols.
“Even at 3am, around 22 idol sets were yet to be immersed. Immersion looked almost impossible with the growing pile of idols and the receding water level. However, the relentless efforts of these labourers made it possible,” said a Kolkata Municipal Corporation official.
“Having witnessed the situation on Dashami afternoon, I had suggested to mayor Firhad Hakim, who was present at Baje Kadamtala Ghat, if it was possible to engage these labourers to extract the immersed idols from the water to make space for other idols,” said environmentalist Subhas Datta. Datta, who had earlier moved court to make the immersion environment-friendly. A KMC official pointed out that it would not be feasible as the idols, once immersed, become extremely heavy and it is impossible to lift them manually.
“The KMC and the KoPT engaged around 1,200 labourers for smooth operations. We had deployed mobile cranes and JCBs at Baje Kadamtala and Nimtala,” said Somnath Sen, a senior engineer from the corporation.