ndia is a land of festivals. These festivals are woven into all religions and into the cultural mosaic of India. Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated pompously all over India and abroad. It denotes the victory of good over evil, and is associated with the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya ending his exile of 14 years. Nowadays a lot of money is spent on fireworks displays during Diwali, which releases noxious gases into the atmosphere. During Diwali, cities and villages across India see alarming levels of pollution. According to studies, air pollution is the greatest contributor to pollution-related death globally. The air quality index (AQI) average showing air pollution levels usually takes a leap from moderate to very poor levels during the night after Diwali, signalling even higher pollution levels, endangering health of the public, owing to poor air quality.
Each Diwali, tens of thousands of cheap firecrackers, sometimes manufactured using toxic chemicals such as mercury and arsenic, are burst, turning cities into ‘gas chambers’.
High levels of toxic pollutants in the air are linked to an increase in respiratory diseases, heart attacks and strokes. The broad spectrum of pollutants means that we are indirectly causing long-term irreversible damage to our environment and to our own selves for short-term benefits. Also, during and after Diwali, immense quantities of waste are generated, most of which is non-biodegradable. Unfortunately, all the waste ends up in landfills.
By one estimate, for every hour of fireworks display, strontium levels in the air increase by 120 times, magnesium by 22 times, barium by 12 times, potassium by 11 times and copper by six times. Higher amounts of these damage bones and cause blood clotting
Taking up eco-friendly measures that affect each aspect of our life is the need of the hour. Pollution skyrockets by 30 per cent during Diwali. Firecrackers also create noise pollution. Fireworks can create 140 decibels of noise, whereas noise at 85 decibels or above can damage hearing. Firecrackers also contain heavy metals that are toxic to the human body. By one estimate, for every hour of fireworks display, strontium levels in the air increase by 120 times, magnesium by 22 times, barium by 12 times, potassium by 11 times and copper by six times. Higher amounts of these damage bones and cause blood clotting. A number of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are produced by fireworks. It would take the entire lifetime of 5,000 trees to offset 60,000 tonnes of carbon emissions produced in one day.
Diwali also is a nightmare for animals who are scared of loud sounds. Dogs can hear 4 times better than us; so the pain they go through during Diwali is unimaginable.
An additional 2,000-5,000 metric tonnes of garbage is discarded on roads after Diwali — more so in metropolitan cities. It is sorrowful that about 100 million children are engaged in the fireworks industries of the country. Asthma and TB are prevalent among 90 per cent of them as they come into direct contact with chemicals. There are so many other ways to celebrate Diwali, such as lighting homes with diyas and candles; meeting people and inmates in orphanages and old age homes; planting trees and decorating houses with flowers and succulents.
The Supreme Court has restricted bursting of firecrackers to between 8 pm and 10 pm and stated that compliance with prescribed safeguards will help strike a balance. It has also prescribed improving manufacture of green crackers that stay within prescribed decibel levels by licenced manufacturers. Use of barium in firecracker manufacture is also banned. The government has been asked to promote community firecracker displays subject to compliance with explosives rules and by designing spots away from residential hospitals and such other places.
Let us observe this Diwali in an eco-friendly manner and emulate our traditional principle of sustainability to bring back the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle. Here are some ways to celebrate a green Diwali:
# Use traditional earthen lamps that leave little to no carbon footprint behind.
# Some rice paper can be bought to make paper lanterns that will add value to traditional lanterns.
# Bamboo can be shaped to form candle holders in place of plastic candle holders.
# Candles can be prepared at home and encased in mud, orange peels, old cheese tins, or even soft drink cans.
# A big brass urli or other wide mouthed shallow vessel made of clay can be filled with water and flowers and candles floated in them. Another great way to go is to buy terracotta Urli that may later be used as a bird bath or to plant micro herbs.
# Be it an office space, home, or common spaces in apartment buildings, rangolis create festive colour.
# Natural materials such as rice, pulses, and flour can be used for their natural texture, shape and colour to create a unique, innovative design.
# Traditionally, natural dyes and materials have been used to create rangolis. Different grains may be used in kitchen to make rice flour, or spices such as turmeric, natural colours, flowers and other such organic materials to create a unique design.
# One can produce a kind of jute using materials such as pieces of paper, flowers, cardboard fragments and fabric. Such material will easily decompose once the festival is done.
# Old colourful umbrellas can be hand-painted or embroidered and placed in public places to create bright public spaces.
# Old furniture can be refurbished, repainted and showcased as a statement piece as a mark of Diwali.
# Eco-friendly decoration with flowers, lamps, succulents or other house plants should be preferred.
Cleanliness paves the way to godliness. By observing a ‘Harit Diwali’, we can make our environment neat and clean. With the involvement and active participation of eco-club students, the ‘Harit Diwali-Swasth Diwali’ campaign can succeed. They can sensitise citizens to minimise bursting crackers to celebrate Diwali in an environment-friendly manner.
The writer is Director, Centre for Environmental Studies, Forest & Environment Department, Government of Odisha.