Is Delhi ready for a green Diwali, with only anars and phuljaris?

The Supreme Court has mandated that only 'green' crackers as formulated by CSIR-NEERI and approved by PESO may be burst this Diwali, so that there is less air and noise pollution. But is Delhi, a city used to boisterous celebrations for a week before and after the festival, ready for a quieter, smoke-free Diwali?

Diwali 2019 could well be the quietest festival of lights Delhi has ever seen. For a city which used to reverberate to the sound and smoke of crackers for a week before and after Diwali, last year’s Supreme Court crackdown on bursting of crackers, its order that only “green crackers” be sold and used, and a tight police vigil on cracker sales, has forced Delhi’s citizens to be satisfied with letting off only flower pots (anars) and sparklers (phuljaris) this year available in only two colours . The so-called atom bombs of old are out, as the concern is not just with air pollution but also the noise pollution that Diwali used to cause.

As a result, shops which till last year sold a variety of loud and very loud crackers are now selling chocolates, candles, greeting cards and wall decorations.  “We have no choice as not everyone has got a licence to sell green crackers,” said one shop keeper in East Delhi. “Only two types of green crackers, namely flowerpots and sparklers, have hit the market,” said Vishal Jain, a fireworks trader at Dariba Kalan in Chandni Chowk area. “They are mostly being procured from manufacturers based in the National Capital Region and a few other states like MP and Rajasthan”.

But even these few items, described by some as “soft crackers” which cause 30 per cent less pollution as compared to the old ones, is in short supply as less than 30 manufacturers across India have got the licence to manufacture green crackers. “The supply is very low and time is very short”, said Narender Gupta, president, fireworks and general traders association, Sadar Bazar. “We are trying to procure some green crackers from Sivakasi”.

However,  “even these are not available in many markets,” said one resident of an East Delhi Housing  Society. “And when available, they are highly priced ranging from Rs 300 for a single flower pot or Rs 430 for a box of about 20 sparklers and which are too expensive for a middle class family,” said Sagar a resident of another locality in east Delhi, which used to be one of the noisiest areas of Delhi during Diwali. “Earlier for the same price, we could get almost a dozen flower pots and a couple of boxes of sparklers”.

What are ‘green’ crackers?

Union Minister for health, science and technology Harsh Vardhan has claimed that the less-polluting green firecrackers developed by eight labs led by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI) lab in Nagpur are “no less illuminating or less attractive compared to the usual ones and environment-friendly. We had appealed to our scientists to come up with an alternative to the polluting firecrackers so that people’s sentiment is taken care of without harming the environment,” said Harsh Vardhan.

The Supreme Court had defined ‘green cracker’ as something that could be an improved formulation or an all-new formulation. CSIR and NEERI conducted trials on their designs of green fire crackers. Their conclusion was that by reducing the quantum of barium nitrate in a cracker and replacing it with another chemical, emission of pollutants can be reduced by 30 per cent and the noise levels could drop from 160 decibels to 125 decibels. The Court had also mandated that the new formula should be approved by PESO, which has a centre in Sivakasi.

The green crackers developed by CSIR are low sound-and light-emitting firecrackers and do not contain chemicals banned by the Supreme Court like lithium, arsenic, lead and mercury. All the green cracker packets carry — or are, at least supposed to carry — a green QR code, which was approved by the government only last week, leaving hardly any time for cracker manufacturers to alter the packaging as most of their stocks had already been shipped out.

A cracker manufacturer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that it was only in March this year that clarity emerged on what constitutes a green cracker. When PESO began to give out licences for manufacturers to produce green crackers, only six of the 1,070 fireworks units in Sivakasi got them (in North India about 24 units got the license). This, industry players say, has caused the sector in Sivakasi a production loss of nearly Rs 1,000 crore.

Meanwhile, as part of the measures to step up vigil on sale of crackers, Delhi Police commissioner Amulya Patnaik held a meeting with the DCPs of all 15 districts and asked them to take steps to ensure supply of green firecrackers to all the licensed traders and encourage people to adhere to the Supreme Court guidelines on bursting of crackers, restricting it for two hours from 8 pm to 10 pm. Out of 97 shopkeepers who had applied for temporary licence, 42 licences were issued till October 22nd, after they all produced the fire safety certificates. “We expect that some more temporary licences will be issued,” said additional commissioner of police (licensing) Suvashish Choudhary.

Choudhary said 143 traders in Delhi have a permanent licence from the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), which defined the norms for green crackers, for storing and selling more than 600 kg of fire crackers. “The Delhi Police’s licensing department issues 14 licences for five years to those shopkeepers who store or sell less than 600 kilograms of firecrackers. Some temporary licences are also issued for a fixed period of 25 days by district DCPs.”

One of the DCPs who attended the meeting said that the police chief emphasised on community drives to persuade people to use only green crackers and stick to the court-ordered timings and restrictions on community fireworks. Patnaik asked the DCPs to hold meetings with RWAs and shopkeepers having valid licenses for selling firecrackers as part of this. “We have asked our staff to check illegal sale of both conventional as well as green crackers,” said DCP (southwest) Devender Arya. “All boxes having green crackers have a specific hologram,” added M S Randhawa, spokesperson of Delhi Police. “Anyone found selling any other type of crackers will face legal action.”

Government initiative

Meanwhile, as part of its efforts to wean people away from bursting crackers, the Delhi government is organising a four-day laser show in Delhi’s centrally located Connaught Place from October 26th “to encourage a community and pollution-free Diwali,” said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. “Various laser shows will be organised from 6 pm to 10 pm till October 29. I invite the people of Delhi to attend the event and celebrate Diwali without firecrackers. The whole of Connaught Place will be decorated with laser lights with laser shows happening every one hour, with various art and cultural programmes, food courts and markets, alongside the laser show. People will have free access to the laser shows”.

If the Diwali laser-show is successful, the government will organise the event at various locations and on a larger scale next year. Kejriwal allayed the apprehension of traders at Connaught Place saying that there will only be restrictions on private transport during the event.

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