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Livelihood of Mumbai’s Ganesh festival-linked people in peril


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With the Maharashtra government calling for low-key Ganpati celebration this year in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, livelihood of people associated with the festivities, which generate a turnover of more than Rs 700 million (£7.16 billion) every year in Mumbai, has been adversely affected.

There are some 12,000 Sarvajanik Ganesh mandals in Mumbai. Besides, nearly 200,000 idols are installed by citizens at their homes every year, Naresh Dahibavkar, president of the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti, an umbrella body coordinating between the civic body, government and Ganesh mandals, told PTI.

“There is a small industry which works during the festival involving flower vendors, electricians, those selling items like bamboo for setting up mandaps, those providing transportation facilities, artisans and many more,” he said.

“The business turnover during the festivities here is over Rs 700 million and the government also gets taxes,” he said, adding that the livelihood of those involved in the celebration-related works would be affected this year.

Ganeshotsav is the most popular festival in Maharashtra. The pandals set up by various mandals in Mumbai and other places in the state attract thousands of devotees during the 10-day festival, which begins on Ganesh Chaturthi.

This year, Ganesh Chaturthi falls on August 22.

Over the years, Ganpati celebrations have grown by leaps and bounds since it became a sarvajanik (public) festival more than a century ago.

In 1896, the plague epidemic cast a shadow on the festival here. At that time also, the celebrations were subdued and people used photograhs of Lord Ganesh on their wall calenders to offer prayers since the idols could not be made, Dahibavkar said.

This year, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, there was a proposal to postpone the festival to February next year. But, from January 1, 2021, use of Plaster of Paris will be banned.

“What to do with the idols already made?” he said.

Besides, open spaces for setting up pandals are provided as per high court order for 12 days a year. In 2021, open spaces will not available for 24 days (12 days in February and 12 days later during Ganesh Chaturthi), he said.

He also said after discussions between the government and the civic body, it was decided to cap the height Ganesh idols at four feet so that the requirement of people to carry the idols for installation and immersion is minimum, he said.

Restricted height would ensure immersion at a nearby site, he said, assuring that hygiene protocols would be followed during the festival.

Meanwhile, idol makers, who are usually much in demand in the run up to the festival every year, are also facing the heat of the pandemic.

Brihanmumbai Ganesh Murtikar Sangh president Gajanan Tondvalkar said they had asked the civic body to allow idols of less than five feet to be made almost a couple of months before the actual decision for idols of four feet was taken.

“Most of the workers live in tiny homes and they need open spaces for making idols. Not all have their own space. We have been demanding a single window clearance system for setting up mandaps for idol-making.

“But, that has not happened for last 15 years. We need permission from the local police station, traffic police, environment department, fire brigade and health department. This year these permissions were waived off. But we got only 35 days to start work on the idols,” he said.

Referring to their other problems, including use of material for making idols, Tondvalkar said clay idols take time to dry.

“If the permission for open spaces is given on time, we will make only clay idols. Because of the time constraints, we cant complete all the orders this year,” he rued.

“We got clay from Gujarat in five containers. Due to the lockdown, we had difficulty in getting these vehicles into the city. Doesn’t the condition of Ganesh idol makers matter to the decision makers? Livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people is dependent on the Ganesh festivities,” he said.

“First, you waste time in taking decision on the height of the idols, but don’t consider the important aspect of providing space. The instructions are to follow social distancing norms, and use masks and sanitisers. How to follow social distancing when there are space constraints?” he asked.

Tondvalkar said since they have not been provided spaces in open playgrounds, they have no option but to work on footpaths and other such places.

As per the new guidelines, the state government has asked citizens to worship metal or marble Ganesh idols at home or install clay idols of not more than two feet, and perform immersion at their homes.

Notably, the Lalbaugcha Raja Ganesh Mandal, which installs Mumbai’s most famous Ganpati idol, earlier this month announced cancellation of the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration this year in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GSB Ganeshotsav Samiti in Wadala area has already postponed the celebration to Magh Shudh Chaturthi in February next year, a samiti official earlier said.

Dahibavkar said this year, blood donation, health camps and public awareness campaigns on coronavirus will be held instead of cultural programmes.

Online darshan facility for idols installed at sarvajanik mandals would be made available for devotees, he said, adding that mandals have also been asked to avoid decoration and lighting on stage.

There are 84 immersion points in Mumbai and apart from these, more artificial ponds will be created, he said.


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