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Cutting back on firecrackers
Firecracker ban led to a quieter Diwali but it had less of an impact on air pollution
It began with a hesitant, quiet bang or two but as the evening wore on in the Capital on Diwali it was painfully and rather noisily obvious that the ban on sales of firecrackers in the National Capital Region (NCR) imposed by the Supreme Court had all but come a cropper. Anyone with their finger on the pulse of the popular mood in Delhi could have predicted that citizens would burst firecrackers on Diwali, in some cases with a vengeance, and by the evening under-the-table sales of firecrackers despite a police crackdown through the day had mushroomed.
The ban of sales on firecrackers in Delhi turned out exactly like prohibition in Gujarat. That is to say, near-impossible to implement. Whether the courts or even ‘enlightened’ members of the liberal classes like it or not, Diwali has become associated with firecrackers. While a lot of residents of the Capital understood that the ban on sales was promulgated in good faith by the Supreme Court, many chafed against a ban and the narrative that it was an attack on the joyous, celebratory aspects of the Hindu ethos went viral on social media, especially on messaging apps.
But the fact remains that firecrackers are extremely polluting, and the rampant usage of firecrackers should be actively discouraged. Regulations and control are the vital components in this effort. For one, just like cigarettes, firecrackers ought to be heavily taxed, their production and distribution needs to be better controlled and the easy availability of vast amounts of illegal firecrackers both those made in India and those imported by the container-load from China must be stopped.
The air quality in Delhi is hazardous to human health, the Air Quality Index which in Delhi is already above safe limits, has gone off the charts with readings above 999 and almost every single parameter from particulate matter to levels of Benzene are far too high for healthy living. In a sense, while residents of the Capital did cock a snook at the ban on firecracker sales, in doing so they effectively ended up committing seppuku. As this newspaper has been writing over the past ten days, there are many causes of air pollution in NCR and there are many rules governing the sources of pollution. It was almost inevitable that the firecracker ban would be flouted, which could be discerned from the ease with which citizens flout existing regulations. The problem is not of a lack of rules but one of enforcement and that is a failure of governance. Old diesel cars and commercial vehicles continue to ply on the roads, construction material is still dumped on the roadside and stubble burning continues. Delhi is one of the most polluted cities on earth, and the air is killing people due to pulmonary diseases and cancer. Any solution will have to involve citizens, better governance and most importantly require rigorous enforcement of the rules by the authorities.
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