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Talk Point: Does public health justify the SC stalling the sale of fireworks for Diwali?

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A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court directed the government to suspend all temporary licenses that were granted to sell fire crackers in the national capital region (NCR) till 1 November. The suspension of licences were ordered under the Explosive Rules, 2008, framed under the Explosives Act, 1884, on grounds of public health.

Question: Does public health justify the court’s action to override the cultural practice of burning firecrackers on Diwali? We seek perspectives

Celebration of Diwali is synonymous with bursting of fireworks

Ved Prakash 
Former President, Delhi Firecrackers’ Dealers Association

The Supreme Court judgement banning the sale of firecrackers has not taken care of all the aspects related to fireworks, its use and so many years of tradition. Celebration of Diwali is synonymous with bursting of fireworks.

Fireworks and crackers are associated with religious sentiments and there cannot be a ban on the sale of fireworks when the entire fireworks industry is regularised and legal.

In 1997, when I was the president of, DRDO conducted a study on the effect of crackers on the levels of noise pollution and the scientists of Jamia Millia Islamia conducted study on air pollution. Both these reports were submitted to the Delhi High Court.

Both the reports found that firecrackers had no effect on human ear drums and the smoke generated is dispersed within a small amount of time. It does not affect health, in fact, in 2003 MCD asked the Delhi government to put its ‘anti-firecracker’ campaign on hold because the immediate effect of the smoke from fire crackers would drive mosquitoes away and decrease the breeding, which is a bigger evil.

The primary cause of pollution-related health problem is vehicular pollution, and four percent is caused by other means which includes firecrackers. Therefore its contribution to overall pollution is insignificant. The other continuous contributor to pollution, like vehicles, should they also be stopped?

Finally, DRDO, in a study on the effect of noise generated by firearms in the battlefield on soldiers, concluded that our eardrums adapt to the amplitude of the sound.

We need to devise new ways to celebrate festivals not stop them

Monika Arora
Advocate, Supreme Court

I am shocked by the order calling for a blanket ban, which comes ten days before Diwali. We all are concerned about the environment as citizens, as parents. But there has to be some balance between trying to protect the environment and traditional festivities and cultural practices.

The court could have act in March or April this year, could have regulated licenses to manufacturers of firecrackers and brought it down by one-third. They could have determined which are legal and illegal crackers, which have more sulphur. This drastic step is ill-timed.

There is no comprehensive study blaming firecrackers as the biggest polluter. Construction-related pollution, diesel vehicles, industrial pollution cause problems through the year. Diwali is just one day. You cannot have a knee jerk reaction to one festival, you must have a graded, gradual response.

Diwali is the biggest festival of India and sentiments of crores and crores of people are attached to it. After all, freedom of religion is quoted to protect the ritual of slaughter of so many animals on Bakri-Eid. Millions of gallons of water is used to wash the blood, slaughter is conducted in public places, drains are full of flesh and bones. You cannot have two sets of approaches to two faiths.

Light and sound is essential to Diwali. On New Years around the world, people burst fireworks. The solution is to opt for environment-friendly, safe fireworks. Many have already bought firecrackers, it is going to be difficult to implement. We need to devise new ways to celebrate festivals not stop them.

High population and disposable incomes has made Delhi the largest consumer of patakas during Diwali

Chetan Agarwal
Environmental Analyst

What is the true cost of smoke? Does it vary from place to place and season to season? Is a spike in air pollutants more harmful when we already face high levels of air pollution in winter? These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves in the context of the recent ban on sale of fire-crackers in the Delhi NCR region.

Prolonged exposure to such high levels of air pollutants is said to reduce life expectancy of Delhi residents by many years. In the short run, sensitive sub-groups of the population – infants and children whose lungs are forming, elderly whose lung functions are reducing and the increasing proportion of the rest of the population facing respiratory distress, are affected adversely and suffer due to exposure to the massive levels of air pollutants during spikes.

The high population levels in Delhi and NCR towns, combined with more disposable incomes has made the NCR the largest consumer of patakas during Diwali – up to a fourth of the total demand in the country. This high consumption happens in the early winter season – when wind dispersion is low and what goes up tends to hang around, which exacerbate the impact, unlike the monsoons, when the rains and winds pretty much clean out the air.

It is worth remembering that the post-Diwali spike last year pushed pollution levels up by 5 to 10 times the permitted levels. We need to target all sectors causing air pollution, especially in the winter. The health of our children, our elderly, and the future generations demands we look at all options including re-imagining Diwali with light rather than noise and smoke. Sitaji would approve.

The ban should not just be on selling fire crackers but also on bursting crackers

Ruchika Sethi 
Founder of Citizens for Clean Air Facebook group, and mother of child with special needs

Just a fortnight back the NCR showed the highest levels of air quality pollution in the entire country. The experts including Haryana Pollution board cited reason of declined wind speed and bursting of crackers during festival of “Dusherra” as the main reason for AQI touching a 274 mark .

While admittedly fire crackers are not the only cause, they add to the already high level of pollution in a very short period of time and with the change in weather conditions the air pollution gets trapped in our breathing zone. Studies show “the high magnesium content in the crackers can cause wheezing, shortness of breath and even affect the central nervous system of pregnant women, cause hearing loss in the elderly.”

All religions teach us to respect the well-being of others and not inconvenience others for the sake of our own momentary pleasure. The ban should not just be on selling fire crackers but also on bursting crackers. Rather than announcing the ban closer to festival date for a short period, the ban should be there for a longer period, for the next two years unless the air quality shows perceptible improvement.

Strict steps should be enforced to stamp out waste burning, which is another traditional practice. Garbage burning and burning of crackers are lethal for air pollution. Its smoke remains within our breathing zone for quite a long time. And most significantly we must lay down clear guidelines for the construction and demolition waste generated in a city like ours.

These are dire times and we require SOS measures, all traditions come to naught in the absence of health.

The ban on firecrackers is a half-hearted judgement 

Surabhi Shikha 
Head pf programmes, Centre for Environment and Energy Development

The ban is a half-hearted judgement that was mostly taken by the apex court under pressure from fellow petitioners and environmentalists who have been lobbying against the rising pollution levels in the capital. Considering that the ban is made under the pretext of mitigating pollution levels in Delhi, there should have been a ban on bursting firecrackers in the first place, and not just on its sale in the National Capital Region.

Most vendors would have already stocked their supply of firecrackers by now. Passing a ban ten days before Diwali will encourage illegal sale of crackers from licensed and non-licensed vendors. Ironically, this undermines the court’s verdict  where one of the reasons to modify the ban was to “come to terms with the ground reality that illegal temporary shops are bound to crop up with or without the blessings of the authorities in the NCR during Diwali.”

Also, the vendors may sell crackers right at the border or have mobile trucks for sale, and when caught, they can always say that the crackers are on their way to other cities.

The said judgement completely ignores the fact that air pollutants are trans-boundary; any corrective, solution-specific short and long-term action plan has no impact unless there is collaborative effort among the neighbouring states to avoid pilferage. There has been no regulation on the sale or burning of crackers in the neighbouring region of NCR. Owing to the wind direction, and other meteorological factors, the smog might still loom over NCR. This was witnessed last year, when the brunt of stubble burning in the farms of Haryana, hundred kilometres away, had to be borne by the region.

Compiled by Talha Ashraf

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