We have good news and bad news.
First, let’s get the bad news out of the way: Diwali firecrackers are partially banned.
And now for the good news: Diwali firecrackers are partially banned.
The Supreme Court gave its ruling just 15 days before Diwali on November 7, in response to a petition on the behalf of three children in September 2015, pleading for a ban on the manufacture and sale of firecrackers to protect their health. In 2016 and 2017, the SC had passed an order with many restrictions on the manufacture and sale of firecrackers in Delhi and the National Capital Region. This time, the ban has expanded to a national ruling.
What exactly does the SC order say?
The apex court observed that there was a need to strike a balance between the right to health of citizens and the right to carry on trade by fireworks manufacturers. Accordingly, it laid down the following rules and guidelines in its order.
- that are green, or ‘less polluting’ — that is, on the safe side of the decibel and emission limits — are allowed in Delhi and areas nearby;
- should be burnt only for a couple of hours, between 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Diwali and 11:55 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. during Christmas and New Year;
- can be burnt in the southern states for two hours, according to their own state rulings;
- cannot be sold online through e-portals.
- should be sold only through license holders
- States have been asked to check whether they can try out collective or community bursting of crackers so that the quantity is reduced
- The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has been directed to check the emission quality one week before and after Diwali
- In Delhi and the NCR, crackers can be burst only in some designated areas assigned by the CPCB.
- All festivals and functions like marriages too should follow these guidelines.
- Banned crackers on sale in an area could get station house officers of regional police stations into trouble
Why is everyone outraged by the ruling?
Ironically, regardless of how you interpret the court order, you can expect fireworks!
Those who want the complete ban in order to protect the environment are indignant. There are 14 Indian cities which are already among the top 15 polluted cities of the world. Will a partial ban lead to cleaner air, they ask. Moreover, how does partial cracker time reduce the emission? For just two hours, the entire city will collapse under the weight of polluted air, points out the anti-cracker brigade.
Those rooting for celebrations are mortified that they will not allowed to burst crackers all day to celebrate the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya. “What about our religious beliefs,” they demand.
Firecracker manufacturers are also obviously furious and view it as a violation of their right to earn a living.
What is wrong with bursting firecrackers?
Firecrackers affect health. Aluminium in crackers could cause skin ailments. They may contain barium salt, which lets out toxic gases that interfere with our respiration.
Bursting crackers in general triggers problems such as asthma, coughing, bronchitis, and can aggravate problems associated with lung disease, and in extreme cases could cause nervous system breakdown and cognitive interference. In the last few years, the air over the NCR region was thick with pollutants during and around the festival, which aggravated pulmonary disease among the young and the old alike.
Can firecrackers be ‘environment friendly’?
Activists are furious that the SC could think there is something called “environmentally safe fireworks”.
Vimlendu Jha, activist and social entrepreneur, tweeted:
Down down Supreme Court. Your one decision to allow sale and use of firecrackers in current times, while half of our country turns into a gas chamber, will kill toddlers, children and elderly. You are complicit. Right to livelihood vs Right to Life and right to breathe.
— Vimlendu Jha (@vimlendu) October 23, 2018
Two years ago, three children filed a petition, which made the SC ban the sale of firecrackers in the NCR. But in September, 2017, the ban was suspended and a “graded approach” initiated a month later, leading up to the latest order.
What is a ‘green’ firecracker, then?
This is a new firecracker that is expected to bring down the toxic fumes in the air to some extent. The crackers have been developed at a cost of Rs 65 lakh by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
Among the 40 types of crackers, the SC ruling asks for replacements for four major components in firecrackers: aluminium, barium, potassium nitrate and carbon. Green firecrackers need to have 30-35% lower emission of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and 35-40% lower emission of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide. They will be less noisy, less polluting and also cheaper, reducing the manufacturing cost by 30 per cent.
There is just one catch. Green firecrackers might not be available this year, according to the Union Minister for Science and Technology, Harsh Vardhan. The firecrackers have been sent for testing to the Petroleum and Safety Organization (PESO) and the results will take almost a month.
How does the ban hit traders?
Pretty hard! At the Sivakasi industry, estimated to be worth around ₹5,000-₹6,000 crore with 1,100 manufacturing units, as well as in the unorganised sector valued at another ₹2,000 crore approximately, a number of traders are quite incensed. Most Sivakasi traders are convinced that the SC ruling is an attempt to nail and jail them.
“Only online selling of firecrackers has been banned, not real-time sales,” said one manufacturer, cautiously. “But even before the SC ruling, the demand for firecrackers has come down.”
Most of the manufacturers however declined to comment when asked for their reactions on the SC ban. A few, who understood the ruling and its implications, appeared frustrated. “What is the point of a ban on firecrackers with aluminium and barium nitrate?” asked one manufacturer. The fact that the court had banned barium nitrate and aluminium, while encouraging magnesium left him sounding quite amused. “Isn’t magnesium harmful?” he asked.
How tough will implementation prove to be?
Can the directions from PESO following the test of ‘green’ crackers come back fast enough for sales to take off in Delhi and NCR for this Diwali?
First of all, many manufacturers seem amused by the very term, ‘green’ crackers. There is no such thing, said K Mariappan, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association. Without research, prototypes or suggestions, such a concept cannot exist, he explained.
However, the fact is that prototypes of the first ‘green’ crackers are ready. Even if these are made available for this Diwali, which in itself is unlikely, most traders are worried.
“What will we do with our existing stocks?” asks Raju, a dealer. While the traders are willing to follow the rules, he points out that there is hardly any time this year. “Who will regulate our licenses? Who will oversee the disposal of our existing stock?” demands Tiwari, another shopkeeper echoes Raju.
There are also questions over the likelihood of strict enforcement of rules as far as bursting crackers in concerned. “Well you need to ask the police department about that,” said the Chief Secretary of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), Prabhudev. “The PCB is only a monitoring body and we shall continue to operate our air quality monitors at four locations in Bengaluru and a few places in other parts of the state. As for catching, punishing and penalising violators, you need to ask the police department.”
Police stations are rather wary about the festival. “We need to monitor firecracker usage on the days leading up to the festival too. We hope to put the ban in place effectively.”
Meanwhile, people do not seem to be too worried. As Diwali looms, the question is not about whether the SC guidelines will be implemented, but whether they can be. And the cracker enthusiasts seem confident. “They certainly cannot,” says Vishwanath, who has already completed his purchase of firecrackers for his two boys. “Who’s going to come to our apartment complex in order to tell everyone to stop?”