By Shruti Sonal:
Before every Diwali, newspapers scream the ill effects caused by crackers, both in terms of environmental pollution and health hazards. Perhaps because I started reading newspapers since a young age or maybe it was having an elder sister who was petrified of them, I learnt to stay away from crackers very early on in my life. My childhood was defined by lighting a few phooljhadis and it continues even today.
But many Delhiites enjoy doing a lot more than light phooljhadis, and the situation gets worse each year. Last year itself, it was highlighted that a day after Diwali, Delhi witnessed 9 times higher pollution level than the normal. This year it soared to 23 times the normal in some parts of the city. The CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) highlighted that during the festival, Respirable Suspended Particles get increased, leaving many at the risk of respiratory diseases. Moreover, specialists claim that the damage to ear membranes due to the sound explosion of crackers is often irreversible. Thus, stricter norms and licensing to check cracker sale is a must.
An incident that brought this problem back to public conscience was when three infants submitted a plea to the supreme court to ban crackers during Diwali. The court refused to impose a blanket ban on crackers and reiterated its earlier ruling that fireworks will be restricted between 10 pm and 6 am. It also emphasised the role of publicity campaigns in the media to highlight the harmful effects of crackers. One understands that a complete ban on crackers is neither feasible nor desirable, both due to tradition and the large number of families employed in the fireworks industry. However, this in no way means that other regulatory measures to curb the use of crackers should not be used.
A lot of us who choose to continue bursting crackers believe that merely one day of celebration will not harm the environment. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it is not just a matter of one day. Smoke particles tend to stay suspended in the air for a long time as they’re heavier than air molecules. In winters they mix with fog and lead to the creation of smog.
Another thought repeated over and over again is that crackers are a part of celebrations around the world, be it heralding the new year or marking the 4th of July. However, in many cities like New York or Sydney, the fireworks are concentrated in one part of the city and the display mostly includes skyrockets. They ensure that pollution levels are kept low while allowing people to truly enjoy the festivities. Perhaps a similar display can be organised in our cities, sounds interesting right?
In terms of a move towards an eco-friendly Diwali, not all trends look bleak though. Last year, only 804 retail cracker outlets were allowed in Delhi, contributing significantly to their lower use. This year too, crackers sales saw a 30% dip. Secondly, instead of the commercial made-in-China crackers that use huge amounts of chemicals like lead, magnesium, nitrate and sodium, people are increasingly turning to eco-friendly firecrackers. Made of recycled paper, they do not contain as much chemicals as conventional crackers. Based on a vacuum combustion method, they produce colourful sparks with considerable sound and less smoke.
A combination of regulation of licence given to cracker shops, a move towards eco friendly crackers and creation of firework display zones in key parts of the city will go a long way in promoting the true spirit of Diwali and celebration. A city that regularly features in the list of world’s most polluted cities cannot afford to do otherwise. Surely you don’t want to choke the Gods on a night they are supposed to descend upon the earth, right?
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