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Diwali 2020: Yes, A Firecracker Ban Is Important, But Is It Enough?

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After a number of states and Union Territories including Odisha, Karnataka, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Delhi banned the sale and use of firecrackers during the upcoming festival of Deepavali, social media was galore with arguments and counterpoints regarding what many considered to be an “anti-Hindu” move.

Why The Cracker Ban?

Self-proclaimed experts, with a half-baked knowledge of pollution, began spewing hate on different platforms, demanding a revocation on the ban. While a good number of aware citizen groups and individuals have been advocating for the cracker ban since some time now owing to the part it plays in air pollution, the recent decisions by the governments seem to be influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The public health emergency, of global proportions, is known to impact the lungs in a considerable manner. With the onset of the winter season, generally alerted by the experts as a resurgent season for the waning virus, the authorities do not want to take chances and hence, the ban on crackers.

However, in a space somewhere, oblivious to logic, rationale and scientific expertise, trolls hammered away at their keyboards, putting forth ridiculous excuses to defend an indefensible stand.

Firecrackers Are Terrible For Animals. Period.

Firecrackers, apart from causing irreversible atmospheric pollution endangering life as we know it, are responsible for a dozen other maladies. Animals, especially stray dogs and cattle are exposed to an astronomical decibel level, thus impacting their hearing as well as leading them to be fearful and apprehensive.

Furthermore, street urchins and abusive locals tend to revel in sadistic pleasure by tying live crackers to the bodies of these animals. Images of severe burns and other injuries on social media following Deepavali is not uncommon. Physical waste strewn around the streets, on the days following the festival is a rather regular sight.

Photo credit: NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

And For The Vulnerable Section

People among the vulnerable section of the population – the homeless and destitute, beggars and other marginalized chunks of the citizenry are exposed to a rather premeditated night of noise pollution, where they are forced to hunt for some safe place to sleep through the night.

Individuals with co-morbidities, especially the ones relating to lungs, senior citizens and young children are disproportionately impacted by firecrackers. In a time when a respiratory disease’s terror has taken over the collective psyche, it is but nonsensical to demand the right to burst firecrackers which are known to cause breathing problems or amplify already existing ones.

Chemical smoke, caused by the firecrackers, other than being a deadly pollutant to the atmosphere, is extremely and immediately detrimental to the public health of the locality that is bursting the crackers. As such, people who did not even choose to be a part of this custom would be forced to face the consequences of the actions their fellow neighbours indulged in.

However, all of the above reasons and more are only part of the problem and do not explain in entirety why a certain section of the populace continues to protest unabated. Contrary to what populism might indicate, the onus is not just on the “common man” but also owes its roots to the authorities.

Probably, the most significant reason why the NGT along with a number of states chose to impose a ban this year was the continuance of the pandemic, a primarily respiratory one while the campaign to ban firecrackers has been going on for years now.

What one can deduce from this is the authorities or the governments aren’t as concerned about environmental pollution and “slow deaths” as they are about the arousal of an immediate, tangible health crisis from the celebrations this particular year. Had there been considerable concern and effective legislation reflecting the concerns for pollution, there could have been a graded exit from the industry along with sensitizing the public about the same.

Banning Is A Quick Fix Because A Ban Impacts Livelihoods Too

The ban also severely impacts the livelihood of thousands of labourers and traders involved in manufacturing as well as procurement and sale of firecrackers. With the added burden of the lockdown and economic slowdown, it is the lowest rung of the leader that faces the brunt. A report by The Hindu on the same is a vindication of the same.

It is an open secret that the firecracker industry is a hotbed of child labour and has been so for quite some time now. Even then, no sincere efforts seem to be made to weed out this archaic and exploitative practice that not only kills the childhood of these kids but the kids themselves.

The question that arises is where do we proceed from here?

Individuals with co-morbidities, especially the ones relating to lungs, senior citizens and young children are disproportionately impacted by firecrackers.

Potential Steps Forward

Surely, bursting firecrackers is not an option. First and foremost, there needs to be ample constitutional pressure on law-makers and bureaucrats to devise an operational mechanism that phases out firecrackers in a graded manner. At the same time, it is imperative that people employed in the industry are accorded necessary skills and opportunities to shift to an alternative livelihood.

Equally crucial is public sensitization. In India, most laws are followed because of the presence of some formal control mechanism such as legal punishment – not because they think it would be actually beneficial to them. Grassroot workers must reach out to the most far-flung places and instil in people, a sense of awareness about the climate.

Issues such as religiousness of people must be understood and then a sincere effort can be made toward educating them the hazardous impact of some practices. Deepavali, which is primarily a festival of lights and for many, a marker of the victory of good over evil must be celebrated keeping the collective good of the climate and society in mind.

A lackadaisical approach is not going to work, anymore.

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