With Diwali just around the corner, the debate around allowing the sale and use of crackers has once again taken centre stage.
Apart from the alarming levels of air pollution, another consideration this year has been the spread of COVID-19. Since it is a respiratory illness, the overarching argument against crackers this year has been further strengthened by the fact that it could worsen the condition of those already afflicted by the virus.
Several studies have already established the positive correlation between air pollution and COVID-morbidity. In a recent study, six researchers from different European institutes have said that 17 per cent of India’s 1.26 lakh Covid-related deaths could have a direct connection with air pollution.
In a preliminary hearing on the issue, the National Green Tribunal issued notices to 23 states and union territories, asking for their response on the issue of pollution and the ban on sale and use of crackers.
On Monday, November 9th, the NGT imposed a complete ban on the sale or use of all firecrackers till November 30th, not just in Delhi and the NCR (UP, Haryana, Rajasthan), but in all cities and towns across the country, where the average of ambient air quality during November fell to ‘poor’ or worse. The average rating would be decided based on air quality data recorded in November (as per available 2019 data).
Data from CPCB for NCR and Metro cities (November 2019)
|City||Number of ‘poor’ or worse AQ days|
Only green crackers may be sold in towns where the air quality has been ‘moderate’ or better. However, such crackers too, can be used only for a maximum of two hours during each festive occasion — between 8 and 10 pm on Diwali and Gurupurb, 6 am to 8 am on Chhatt and between 11.55 pm and 12.30 am during Christmas and New Year’s eve.
What are green crackers?
Green Crackers have been developed by the National Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). They are designed to be less polluting and harmful than regular crackers. The composition of the green crackers sees the complete removal or sharp reduction of harmful chemicals such as barium, potassium nitrate, carbon and aluminium, cutting down the emissions by 30%. The green crackers do not use ash as dessicants, further reducing the harm caused by their use.
The various categories of green crackers are – safe water releaser (SWAS), safe minimal aluminium (SAFAL) and safe thermite cracker (STAR).
While an NGT order is binding on all parties, it is possible that one of them challenges the same in the Supreme Court of India. In the case of firecrackers, however, even before the NGT issued its orders this year, individual states had made clear their stance on firecrackers. Some had clearly banned their sale and use across the state. The NGT bench has stated that “At other places, (where the Tribunal restrictions based on air quality index do not apply) ban/restrictions are optional for the authorities but if there are more stringent measures under orders of the authorities, the same will prevail.“
Below is a list of states that have banned firecrackers:
The Delhi government issued a complete ban on all firecrackers including green crackers from November 7th extending till November 30th. As Delhi battles rising COVID-19 cases and severe air pollution due to stubble burning, the impact of crackers on the air quality was the chief factor behind such a move. Violators of the ban may be fined up to a sum of Rs 1 lakh.
Rajasthan was one of the first states to issue a ban on firecrackers this Diwali. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot issued a blanket ban on the sale and use of all firecrackers on November 2. Shopkeepers found selling any kind of firecracker would be fined Rs 10000, while individuals found to use or allow any kind of fireworks would be fined Rs 2000.
The increased complications caused by air pollution during COVID-19 was cited as the reason for the ban. The state government urged citizens to embrace festive spirit by lighting lamps and foregoing crackers as they quoted studies that said air pollution had worsened the outcomes for COVID-19 patients by as much as 15%.
Uttar Pradesh is one of the states that had received a notice from the NGT on air pollution and banning of crackers. The state has issued a ban on the sale and use of Chinese firecrackers; however, green crackers were permitted for use. Following the NGT order, however, cities will have to note the average air quality recorded in November before they can allow green crackers.
Haryana has issued a fixed time for the use of firecrackers in the state in view of pollution and COVID-19. It is one of the states affected by poor air quality in the winter due to stubble burning and crackers may worsen the air quality. The state allows for bursting of crackers between 8pm -10pm on festival days.
Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa banned the use of all crackers during Diwali last week. He cited the potential effects of increased pollution on the spread of COVID-19 in the state. However, after appeals from several quarters, he reneged on a total ban and allowed for the use of ‘green crackers’.
According to state rules, crackers can be sold by authorised sellers only and only between November 7th and 16th. The state has issued a Standard Operation Procedure which outlines rules and guidelines for sale and bursting of green crackers. Violation of orders could lead to penalties plus imprisonment of up to two years under the National Disaster Management Act 2005.
Bengaluru, the capital, had not recorded any ‘poor air’ days during November 2019, with CPCB records showing that the air quality oscillated between moderate and satisfactory during the reference period. The city would therefore be subject to only state-imposed restrictions, as may be announced.**
Tamil Nadu is one of the hubs for the manufacture of firecrackers. The firecrackers manufactured in Sivakasi are exported to all states. The Chief Minister had earlier this week appealed to the states that issued a total ban on crackers, requesting them to rethink their decision in light of the economic impact of this move.
Within the state, there are strict norms on the bursting of crackers. The public will be allowed to burst crackers only within a designated time period. The use of crackers is permissible only between 6am-7am and 7pm-8pm on Diwali day. Around 80% of the crackers manufactured in the state are green crackers.
The Maharashtra government had this week issued an advisory urging citizens to avoid the use of firecrackers. The note asked for citizens to light lamps and shun crackers in view of the pollution caused by crackers and the respiratory issues that stem from COVID-19.
Following the advisory by the state government, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation banned firecrackers within the city limits. The civic body has allowed only the use of soundless crackers such as flowerpot only on November 14 between 8pm – 10pm. Commercial establishments have also been banned from conducting any fire shows.
Madhya Pradesh banned the sale of all Chinese firecrackers and outlined strict action to be taken against those who sell imported crackers. The state government has also urged citizens to embrace pollution-free methods of celebrating Diwali such as the lighting of lamps.
The government of Odisha issued a blanket ban on sale and use of firecrackers from November 10 to November 30 in view of the ill effects of air pollution on those affected by COVID-19. The state government invoked its Disaster Management Act to issue this ban.
An order by the Kolkata High Court has banned the sale and use of firecrackers during the celebration of Kali Puja and Diwali. A PIL had been filed before the high court calling for the ban as crackers will adversely affect health during the pandemic. Though the state government had urged citizens to refrain from bursting crackers, it had not passed any orders prohibiting the same. The prohibitory orders of the court now means West Bengal will celebrate a cracker-free Diwali.
Chandigarh imposed a total ban on the sale and use of firecrackers this Diwali, invoking provisions in the Disaster Management Act. The administration issued a blanket ban and cautioned violators of strict action and fines. The administration deferred to warnings from doctors that rise in pollution could worsen the condition of those affected by coronavirus.
Sikkim issued a total ban on firecrackers noting the rising air pollution and number of COVID-19 cases in the state. The ban was issued on November 8th and will be in place till further orders.
Nagaland has issued a blanket ban on sale and use of firecrackers. It is one of the 18 states that had been included in the orders by the NGT on the use of crackers. The ban will be in place until further notice.
JAMMU AND KASHMIR
A ban on the sale of crackers in Jammu district has been imposed for two months starting November. The reason for this however has been cited as a security issue rather than concerns around air pollution or its effects on COVID-19.
KERALA / ANDHRA / TELANGANA / JHARKHAND / GUJARAT/ CHATTISGARH / PUNJAB/ BIHAR / UTTARAKHAND / HIMACHAL PRADESH / LADAKH / ASSAM / ARUNACHAL PRADESH / MANIPUR / MIZORAM / TRIPURA / MEGHALAYA
No directive on ban of crackers for Diwali. The public have been advised to reduce use of crackers but official orders against their sale or use are absent.
Efficacy of the NGT ban
While the NGT orders were hailed by some quarters, a leading collective of environmental lawyers at Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) has expressed scepticism about its potential effectiveness in curbing air pollution.
In a statement, the group said that the 135 cities for which Air Quality Index is computed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) make up only 1.7% of the total cities in India. Of this, data is available only for 110 cities.
Among these cities 60 will fall under the criteria of having poor to severe air quality, thereby invoking the ban. Another issue highlighted by the group is example of difference in AQI between Kolkata and Howrah where the use of fireworks would be legal in Kolkata and banned in Howrah as per the orders.
[** This information was added to the article in an update post initial publication.]