Toxic Diwali

The ban imposed by the Supreme Court on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) till November 1, is a positive measure inasmuch as its motive is concerned.

The capital city has come to witness unbearable air pollution over the past several years thanks to the inordinate rise in the number of vehicles, shrinkage of greenery as a result of expanding infrastructure, development projects and extraneous factors such as the burning of stubble in Haryana.

Last year, the city had seen unprecedented rise in particulate matter (PM 2.5) post Diwali. The level of PM2.5 crossed 700 micrograms per cubic metre, which was more than 29 times the standards set by World Health Organisation and was one of the highest levels recorded around the world.

The Supreme Court order will not be effective in curbing such pollution unless there is a conscious effort on the part of citizens themselves to cut on excesses in the name of celebration.

Lighting diyas and candles had been found to have a positive effect in controlling the population of certain insects whose numbers seemingly rise during this time of the year. However, heavy decorative electric lights have long replaced diyas.

Competitive bursting of fireworks and decorations not only cause huge pollution but are an utter waste of resources. They only add to pollution levels in the national capital, where industrial and vehicular emissions and dust from construction sites have already seen to it that the air is choked with toxic chemicals.

The Supreme Court has only prohibited sale of firecrackers within the limits of Delhi-NCR. It means people can still buy them in huge quantities from outside the region. It won’t be a surprise if people source and procure their fill of crackers from outside the banned region, just like the practice in dry states.

Also, the authorities concerned might not have adequate time to enforce the ban in full force as it has come too close to the festival. The court directive, if implemented in letter and spirit, will also be a body blow to cracker units as they would already have produced and shipped consignments to the capital ahead of the festival.

The Supreme Court verdict is timely, considering the environmental fallout of such activities. However, it is unlikely to be successful in the short run. People’s active cooperation is imperative in such issues.

The government must also play its part by diverting some of its advertising budget to sensitisation of the public on such core issues. Involving children by starting from schools might yield positive results.

Another aspect is that it is not Delhi alone that is witnessing a rise in levels of air pollution. Cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai (and many more) may not be far behind despite the unique advantages that geography offers them.

The Supreme Court ruling should be extended to other major cities in the country as well as towns like Bhubaneswar to help curb the menace of air pollution. There needs to be a nationwide effort at the social level too, to curb the use of firecrackers during festivals such as Diwali as well as weddings and other occasions.

The damage to water bodies during immersion could also be taken up as another point to ponder on. Bans and regulations could be put in place, but are unlikely to have an impact without public cooperation. Sadly, all such directives are openly flouted by the very citizens for whose benefit they are designed.

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