Monday, September 9, 2013

‘90% mandals agree to 18-ft idol height’

‘90% mandals agree to 18-ft idol height’

In 1894, Lokmanya Tilak had started the concept of sarvajanik (public) celebration of the Ganesha festival with a view to foster a spirit of patriotism and unity. However, over the years the festival appears to have gone off track. There are complaints of extortion in the name of the festival, civic laws are violated with impunity and there is heavy emphasis on loud celebrations. In this context, Eknath Makne spoke to Naresh Dahibawkar (64), president of the 31-year-old Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samnvay Samiti (BSGSS) – which has 11,400 mandals associated with it. Excerpts:

Preparations for the festival was marred with controversies over seeking permissions from the BMC and other authorities. What went wrong?
I have been associated with the samiti for the past 30 years. But I don’t remember we faced such problems until this year. Be it seeking permissions for use of open spaces for mandaps or erecting hoardings, the municipal administration has troubled us. For instance, the Bombay HC’s order on hoardings was limited to illegal banners only. But the corporation decided to ban banners altogether. In case of use of open spaces, it has said it won’t allow mandals formed after 2012 (earlier the deadline was 2010) to use municipal grounds. This can’t be understood. I wonder if the BMC wants do away with the celebrations of Ganeshotsav.
The HC had banned banners and hoardings. But your federation appears to be circumventing this ban by getting mandals to put up hoardings. Many citizens are unhappy about this. Please comment.
I don’t agree that citizens are unhappy. At a time when inflation is soaring, we can’t force people to donate exorbitantly. Hence, sponsorship is required for mandals to celebrate festival. It is not about celebrating festival only, but also implementing social welfare programmes, which mandals do well after the festival.
You are talking about not forcing devotees to donate. But we often hear of instances of extortions by mandals under the pretext of seeking donations. Mandals write down the amount on the receipt and insist on residents and shopkeepers to cough up that amount. This is plain extortion.
If there are any such instances, then people can bring it to our notice. We have asked all mandals affiliated with us to get registered first under Section 41 (C) of Public Trust Act. If they are not registered and are still seeking donations, then it takes a form of extortion.
On the one hand you are engaged in a duel with the BMC over bad roads. On the other hand, your mandals are damaging city roads by digging holes to erect pandals. The BMC estimates that at least one lakh holes are dug by the mandals.
I don’t know how the BMC has arrived at this conclusion on the escalating number of potholes. Normally, mandals erect pandals in by-lanes and not on main roads. If at all there are any potholes because of the mandals, then we assure you that they will be filled up. In fact, we ask the mandap contractors to fill up the potholes after the festival is over.
But why do mandals insist on drilling holes on perfectly good roads? They can easily use drums filled with sand or debris to prop up the bamboos. There must be some commitment to the city.
This suggestion will be useful in cities like Pune where the mandap size is small. But, in Mumbai there are large mandaps whose load cannot be taken by bamboos supported by drums.
Activists have been crying foul over noise pollution. Yet your organisation is seeking to increase permissible decibel levels.
The noise level-related norms were framed in the year 2000. At that time, the permissible limit was restricted to be 55 decibels during daytime and 45 decibels at night in residential areas. But if you look at the rise in human and vehicle population over the past decade, the average noise level have escalated. The permissible limits, therefore, don’t stand applicable now. Hence, we have made the demand.
So, you mean we should add to the already increasing noise level?
No, we are not seeking relaxation in norms for the entire year. We celebrate the festival for only 10 days. To address complaints of loud music being played, we have already advised mandals associated with us to play devotional and conventional music like bhajans and avoid disco-type songs.
Festival celebration is expected to enhance the rich culture of city. But in the past there have been several instances of devotees being roughed up by organisers.
If a complaint comes to us, we will to take care of it. In any case, the police is capable of looking into such issues. But at the mandal-level, we have asked organisers to ensure that such instances do not occur.
The competition amongst mandals to install tallest idols appears more materialistic than devotional.
It’s true there used to be a practice of installing idols of 30-ft and beyond. We have heard of a 45-ft tall idol. But after the committee headed by late Jayant Salgaonkar decided to restrict the height to 18-ft, nearly 90% mandals have agreed to the same.
Some of your big mandals take pride in immersing idols the last. This puts uncalled for strain on the cops and BMC staff since they are expected to be on duty till the last idol is immersed. Why don’t mandals do the immersion procession within the stipulated time?
I don’t think it’s a deliberate practice. The time taken in procession has increased mainly after 2010 due to numerous potholes and uneven stretches on roads. While we have been urging the corporation to give us smooth roads, they are not doing that. Also, we have appealed to the government to declare a holiday on immersion day so that there is less crowd on the roads. But, it is still to accept our demand.
The haphazard manners in which idols are immersed defaces city beaches when broken parts of idols float back. Also, there is heavy pollution of the beaches since plaster of Paris and inorganic dyes are used to make idols.
The sight of broken parts of the idols certainly hurts our sentiments. So, we have decided to appoint mandal activists to carry out re-immersion of partially-immersed idols.
Most Mumbaikars today feel Ganeshotsav is more market-driven and far from what Lokmanya Tilak envisaged. What are you going to do to change the perception?
The BSGSS was established in 1982 to ensure that we follow Tilak’s path. Before the committee was floated, there used to exist issues like communal tension. But after our samiti came into existence, we could see people from all religion taking part in the festival. Today, our mandals are executing various social welfare programmes throughout the year.

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