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A Green Diwali

Time to keep pollution levels low

By Gargi Bhattacharya

Nov 14 : Being the month of several festivals such as Diwali, Kali Puja and Chhath puja, the bursting of firecrackers and the accompanying air pollution become pertinent issues  in public discussion. Firecrackers are traditionally synonymous with these festivals. However,  several states and Union Territories have imposed a complete ban on the sale and use of all forms of  firecrackers. The ban has come with the current spike in the number of Covid-19 cases and the  increasing air pollution in several states across India. Experts have also warned that the worsening  air quality due to smoke and pollutants from bursting firecrackers during the festivals may  increase the risk to COVID-19 patients and those who have recovered from the infection. The move was expected and, generally speaking, long overdue given the pollution levels in the country and the number of people who suffer from breathing disorders and other related ailments.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has prohibited the sale and use of firecrackers during Diwali in the  National Capital Region of Delhi and in urban centers that recorded poor or worse air quality in  November last year. These directions are based on previous Supreme Court orders and provide some relaxations to cities and towns that have moderate or better air quality, by allowing “green  crackers” that can be burst during specified hours. States such as Odisha, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, along with the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Calcutta High Court had already responded to these  environmental conditions by banning firecrackers earlier this year. The NGT has stressed on the precautionary principle in sustainable development over employment and revenue  loss. 

‘Green Crackers’ are being allowed in certain States. According to the Council  for Scientific and Industrial Research, green crackers are those which have 30 per cent less emission, apart from having less  harmful chemicals, and are less dangerous. Green Crackers are sold under three categories: Safe  Water Releaser (SWAS), Safe Thermite Cracker (STAR) and Safe Minimal Aluminum (SAFAL), all  certification as per CSIR norms. Green Crackers do not contain banned chemicals such as lithium, arsenic,  barium, and lead. QR codes or green cracker packages will help consumers identify counterfeit. 

In the case of Assam, the Pollution Control Board Assam (PCBA) has ordered a complete ban on the  sale and bursting of firecrackers in Guwahati till the end of the month of November to curb pollution  amid the COVID -19 pandemic. This decision has been taken in view of high pollution in the city with  air quality being in the “poor” category, the Board said in an order on Tuesday. In areas other than  Guwahati, only green crackers have been allowed for two hours on Diwali from 8pm to 10pm. 

District Magistrates (DMs), Commissioners and the Superintendents of Police (SPs) will  implement the directions, the notification said, adding that ‘Daily Action Taken Reports’ will have  to be submitted to the Board. 

In addition to this, to stop the use of fire crackers at the source, the PCBA officials will carry out inspections  and monitor commercial sellers of fire crackers. In this regard, the Board has requested Deputy  Commissioners to assign an officer of the rank of magistrate to accompany the Board’s monitoring  team. 

The moves have been undertaken following directions from the NGT. The Board has warned that such pollution can further aggravate the health conditions  of persons suffering from COVID-19 and also affect other vulnerable population groups. All of this is, of course, also based on the hope that the people of the country will keep their festivals pollution and noise free, for the sake of those who are ill and vulnerable around them. India needs to listen to its soul. 

Gargi Bhattacharya practices law at the Gauhati High Court and is an avid reader and traveler.