First, the good news. This year, air quality in Delhi during Diwali was a little better since 2015 thanks to strong winds that washed away much of the pollutants that choked the air on Diwali. The bad news is, there was unfettered use of firecrackers that made a mockery of total ban on all types of crackers including green crackers by the Delhi government. The Delhi High Court on October 20 had refused to entertain a plea filed by sellers of green crackers challenging the ban. Similarly, the Supreme Court also declined an urgent hearing of a petition filed by a BJP MP challenging the ban on firecrackers.
But despite this strictness by the courts, all types of crackers were being sold openly in several markets of Delhi. This year, the writer’s experience in Diwali was nothing short of nightmarish. The relentless assault on eardrums from the day before Diwali was proof enough that we are still not serious about the menace of air pollution and the incalculable havoc crackers can play with our health. It seemed that after two years of pandemic, nothing could stop our enjoyment-deprived citizens from bursting crackers; concern for the environment be damned. As the night advanced on the day of Diwali and the volume of firecrackers burst went up, the city was shrouded in toxic haze as the AQI worsened. As I write this piece on a smoggy afternoon on October 29, Delhi’s air quality has deteriorated to the “severe’’ category for the first time this winter.
We have closed our eyes to the fact that the high decibel sound of conventional crackers can endanger the lives of senior citizens, heart patients and those with respiratory problems. Stray animals, pets and birds also bear the brunt of loud crackers the most. We all know that every year emissions from firecrackers leads to a spike in air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region. Crackers release carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, which contaminate air, water and soil besides being harmful to wildlife, pets and human beings. As for green crackers, despite being barium-free and heavy metal-free, once you burn something, its emissions will have an impact on the environment.
The problem is, crackers in our country have become an integral part of our socio-cultural life and even a mere suggestion of banning it invites fierce opposition and criticism. Politicians of all stripes will jump into the fray to protest against any ban on crackers as if somebody’s fundamental right has been trampled upon. Since Diwali is a Hindu festival, any judgment by the court, even if it concerns banning crackers and, taken in public interest, is cavilled at.
Somewhere along the way, have we not, in our overzealousness to enjoy the festival, eroded its sanctity and significance by reducing it to a spectacle of noise and cacophony? What positive purpose does a festival serve if it makes others’ lives miserable? Perhaps it is time we started thinking on these lines. The onus lies both with the school and parents to inculcate in students the need to ditch phatakas for diyas, sweets and new clothes. I know it is extremely difficult to get over the obsession with noisy crackers so easily. But a beginning can always be made. The heartening thing is that these days school students are growing aware of the impact of crackers on environment and are celebrating the festival with diyas thanks to the anti-cracker campaigns.
While governments from time to time have been carrying out awareness campaigns to encourage people to celebrate an eco-friendly Diwali, these have not achieved the desired results. Perhaps the time has come for people from all sections of society to raise the pitch on the campaign for a cracker-free Diwali; not just from politicians only. Popular actors, painters, writers, social workers, environmentalists and residents welfare associations should regularly carry out anti-cracker campaigns and interact with all sections of society. They can sensitise people on the need to celebrate the festival of light with diyas, lights and safe fireworks. School and college students too can play a major role in creating awareness about the need for eco-friendly Diwali celebrations.
Let us also not lose sight of the fact that Delhi government’s ban on crackers is not producing the desired result as people are flouting rules with impunity. The Delhi government or for that matter any state government must come up with some practical solution to this problem. For example, they can set a time limit of, say, two hours on Diwali, to let people light crackers. That way, people will not treat it as an intrusion into their liberty. Civil and pollution board officials should be on their toes and crack the whip on shops and traders selling banned firecrackers.
The writer is a freelance journalist