By Pranya Jain
In Delhi, the festival of lights is marred by worrying levels of air pollution that jeopardise public health. Taking into account the notoriously poor air quality in Delhi, the Supreme Court has banned the sale of traditional fireworks and has only allowed the sale of green crackers in Delhi. Ostensibly, this is a sound move. However, research suggests that this shift to green crackers might not be the most effective move.
“Green” crackers are not as eco-friendly as their name suggests. The prototypes developed by the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI), Tamil Nadu, and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI),Nagpur, reduce the emission of particulate matter and toxic gases by only 20–30% in comparison to traditional firecrackers. Although green crackers significantly reduce smoke and noise, they are still awaiting safety checks and manufacturing licenses from the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) before they can commence manufacturing. Consequently, green crackers will not be available in markets in time for this Diwali. While addressing the media, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “Obviously, they will not be available for this Diwali. But once granted licence by PESO, factories like those in Sivakashi will begin manufacturing and these will be available for use on all occasions including weddings throughout the year.” The non-availability of green crackers will lead the public to buy conventional fireworks.
Furthermore, the apex court’s decision came just two weeks ahead of the festival. This has made the implementation of the order problematic for enforcement authorities. Majority of the retailers and traders have already purchased their stock of traditional crackers in preparation for the Diwali season and to avoid losses, they will continue to sell them despite the court order. Approximately 50 lakh kilogrames of crackers worth crores of rupees is stocked in and around the National Capital Region for this Diwali, according to the Sadar Nishkarm Welfare Association. The fireworks’ industry, whose sales values are estimated at Rs 20,000 crore, can be better regulated if orders that directly affect the manufacturers and retailers are put into place months in advance. This will assist in minimising the economic impact of the ban on them.
Besides, the execution of the hasty decision is hardly enforceable. The law enforcement agencies remain clueless as to what qualifies as a green cracker, given that firecracker makers claim that green crackers are a myth. The authorities do not have any decibel and smoke measuring equipment and rely primarily on common sense and on ground officers to confirm compliance. Also, since the decision was announced weeks before the festival, it has given the police very limited time to devise an effective plan that can be executed at ground level.
Moreover, a 2017 study by Urban Emissions, a research group, indicated that the ban on crackers had essentially no impact on the pollution levels in the city. Green crackers alone cannot dissipate the alarming levels of air pollution in Delhi. The main causes of pollution in the city are poor infrastructure, crop burning in Punjab and Haryana, vehicular pollution, and policy paralysis of the state and the central government. Banning crackers is only a minor step in the long battle to make the city’s air breathable again.
Diwali is a festival of light, not smoke. We can all do our part in making this Diwali eco-friendly. Instead of burning traditional firecrackers, purchase electronic crackers which produce light and sound but no smoke. They are reusable and well within the permissible sound limits set by the government. Use oil-based diyas which are made out of clay and are thus biodegradable and cost-effective. Replace fireworks with lanterns and watch the sky light up. You can also go green by gifting plants instead of sweets to your loved ones.
Have a safe and happy Diwali!
Pranya Jain is a writing analyst at Qrius