The Maharashtra Cabinet's efforts to decide on banning the sale and bursting of firecrackers during Diwali proved a damp squib, after sparks flew between ministers on the subject. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, newly recovered from Covid-19, made a strong case for banning fireworks citing air and noise pollution and the spread of the virus following crowding. He was supported by Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope and Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray. But other ministers objected to the ban, saying that sales had already begun since Dussehra and those who had set up shop were likely to incur huge losses.
The naysayers argued that a complete ban was uncalled for, especially when economic activities had slowly begun picking up after the relaxation of Covid-19 norms, under MissionBeginAgain. “If the government decides to impose a ban on the sale of firecrackers, then those who have already invested in their procurement will face a huge financial burden. As far as bursting of firecrackers is concerned, the government, through civic bodies, should run an awareness campaign with a call for noise-free firecrackers,’’ said a senior minister not in favour of the ban.
However, Tope, who chaired the meeting of Covid-19 taskforce and the death audit committee, said that the unanimous view of these panels was that firecrackers needed to be banned in Diwali, as had been done in Delhi, Rajasthan, Orissa and Sikkim, especially in view of the fact that with the onset of winter there was every possibility of a rise in virus spread. He admitted that the issue had been discussed at Thursday’s cabinet meeting but there was no decision on a ban.
“Citizens should be more careful in view of the upcoming Diwali festival. I urge all people to use masks, observe social distance and wash their hands regularly. Let us celebrate a firecracker-free Diwali this year, as the smoke from these cause respiratory problems,’’ said Tope.
“Smoke from firecrackers can create breathing problems. It is also the role of the health department to ensure that this year's Diwali should be fireworks-free,’’ he added.
Tope said the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation would soon issue regulations restricting fireworks in Mumbai. “The BMC has decided to put curbs on bursting firecrackers in public places during the present coronavirus pandemic. Non-compliance will be met with punitive action by the civic body. Limited fireworks will be allowed in the premises of the residential societies,’’ he added.
According to the minister, excessive pollution in one place could lead to an increase in corneal infections, lowering people's oxygen levels, so people needed to practise self-restraint.