The recent judgment by the Supreme Court is well-intentioned and a bold attempt to address a grave issue concerning the health of citizens, especially the infants and the old. The court refused to impose a nationwide blanket ban on the manufacture and sale of firecrackers. However, it did not allow anything other than green crackers to be burst in the NCR region. It has fixed a time band of 8 pm to 10 pm — on Diwali and other festivities, including weddings for the bursting of firecrackers across the country.
A separate time slot (11.55 pm to 12.30 am) has been allowed for bursting crackers during Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration across the country. In addition, certain excessive polluting category of firecrackers have been banned along with the complete prohibition of online sale of crackers.
The apex court has tried to show environmental stewardship while dealing with the firecrackers issue though it has favoured a moderate use of crackers after its failure in controlling the sale and use of firecrackers last year. The core content of the SC order revolves around manufacturing and sale of “green crackers”. Surprisingly, the apex court has failed to inquire into a potent question, whether green crackers are manufactured in India or not? The answer is perhaps “no”.
The concept of “green firecracker” is still in the embryonic stage. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had come up with that idea but there is hardly any research on developing green crackers, nor is there any scientific, technical and socio-economic information available to understand the issue. Hence, the one way worth exploring is the importation of such green crackers from some foreign countries — if at all they are in use. They could be shipped to Indian in massive quantities.
Though the court has tried to balance various competing interests like those relating to the firecracker industry’s needs, the livelihood of workers, the rights of consumers, religious sentiments, environmental prerogatives and even the problems of local administrations, it is very difficult to strike a fine balance among the extremely contradictory and competing interests, and that is why it poses serious doubts on implementability of the court’s order. The last years’ experience speaks volume about it.
It is an undenying fact that bursting of firecrackers releases a heavy dose of carcinogens in the atmosphere, presenting a humongous public health challenge for Delhi and NCR regions. Though the executive wing is duty bound to ensure safe health by regulating the use of such polluting materials, its constant dereliction forces the courts to step in. Even the state governments are quite lethargic in fighting the pollution menace.
In the wake of the ban, the argument over the firecracker industry’s estimated loss of more than Rs 1,000 crore in the current year is not convincing in terms of the potentiality of health hazards. It is high time the firecrackers manufacturing sector ought to be persuaded to use the latest technology that reduces pollution. It is equally important to educate the people, especially children, about the threat to health posed by firecrackers. Campaigns over the years have yielded some dividends, however, there is a greater need to promote emancipatory environmentalism. We need to ponder over how the traditional value system of sustainability has been sacrificed at the altar of mindless consumerism and pomp, deliberately ignoring the long-term deleterious impact of such action.
The simplistic mass cultural extravaganza has gradually divorced itself from many traditional, religious and cultural specific aspects of the festival. It is used more as a potent marketing tool in cities diluting the essence of worship, honour and devotion to the divine. In fact, the literal meaning of Deepavali is “row of lamps” which projects the glorious past of our country that teaches us true values of our lives. That is being gradually fading in the face of loud firecrackers. The growing social awareness concerning emulating eco-friendly measures in every aspect of our life will lead to arresting the persistent dangers emanating from the bursting of crackers. It is hoped and believed that mass awareness for the love for our ecology will be the best tool against polluting firecrackers.