Students in India Select Greenest Durga Puja Pandal

By Neela Majumdar

In Kolkata, the week-long festival of Durga Puja makes the whole city feel magical with incredibly beautiful temporary temples everywhere. These intricately-decorated structures are called “pandals.”

Durga Puja is a time when the whole city comes alive, with millions of people from all over the world visiting the pandals around the clock.

In order to increase environmental awareness among the makers of the pandals, the people who visit them and, most importantly, India’s youth, Earth Day Network initiated the Alchemist Earth Award in cooperation with the Alchemist Group of industries.

We chose fifty students from several schools in Kolkata as judges to visit pandals around the city and determine which one was the greenest. Earth Day Network helped prepare the student-judges for the event by holding a workshop on how pandals could go green.

The criteria for judging included the following questions:

• Did the pandal have adequate garbage collection receptacles?

• Did they incorporate plants and other organic material?

• How did the pandal committee plan to dispose of the mounds of flowers used for the daily rituals?

• What were the plans for recycling the material used to construct the pandal?

• Was the sacrament served on eco-friendly plates?

• Did the lights run on renewable energy?

• What was the level of noise pollution generated by the pandal?

• Did the committee plan green programs beyond Durga Puja?

The judges also gave the pandal makers suggestions for next year, including composting the flowers and adding recycling bins.

The winning pandal was Hatibagan Nabin Pally. It was built around Khādī– a natural fiber that is spun by hand on a spinning wheel called a "charkha." (Mahatma Gandhi had begun the production of Khādī as a movement to promote rural self-employment and self-reliance.) The pandal also used only solar energy for its lighting.

A leading media chain, the Ananda Bazar Group, supported the initiative and publicized the Award widely.

The huge success of this initiative – and with wide praise and publicity it received – has convinced our supporters to hold the event again next year.