Diwali's darker side: Pollution, promoting child labour

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Diwali's darker side: Pollution, promoting child labour

Thursday, 23 October 2014 | SNIGDHA NANDA

An annual commemoration of good over evil, Deepavali or Diwali celebrates the expedition from darkness to light and ignorance to enlightenment.  A combination of two Sanskrit words, “Deep” and “Avali”, where the former stands for light and the latter for a row, Deepavali means “Rows of lights or lamps”.

True to its name, traditionally Deepavali was celebrated by lighting earthen lamps signifying the triumph of good over evil. Earthen lamps diyas) lit on the moonless Diwali night signifies the end of darkness of ignorance and the beginning the wealth of knowledge that enlightens.

But far away from its true essence, this festival of lights and fortune brings quantum of adversity in forms of noise and air pollution every year.  Shrouding many cities under its gloomy impact, smog dims the shine of this festival of lights.  Excess use of firecrackers makes air of the pious night gets cogged by harmful gas. It becomes difficult to breathe in for many, particularly for people suffering from respiratory infirmity.

Bursting firecrackers creates mammoth air pollution during Diwali. Release of toxic smoke like sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide from crackers soars every year that causes environmental damage and health ailments like asthma and bronchitis.

Harmful effects of chemicals like copper, cadmium, lead,  magnesium, sodium, zinc and nitrate used in crackers can cause irritation of respiratory tract, anemia and damage to kidney, affect the nervous system, cause metal fume fever, cause skin problem, nausea and  mental impairment.

Apart from polluting air, firecrackers also create noise pollution. As exposure to high levels of noise can cause health hazards like simple headache, stress to sleeping disturbances, anxiety, high blood pressure, hearing loss, damage to hearth, and at times, temporary deafness or permanent relative deafness, the apex court has restricted the use, sale and storing of noisy fireworks that generate noise levels of more than 90 decibels.  But the Supreme Court direction to ban bursting of sound-emitting firecrackers from 10 pm to 6 am has been openly contravened.  At places firecrackers were burst not only throughout the night, but for many days causing discomfort to patients, elderly persons and small children.

The festival of lights also conceals a dark underside. Firecrackers, the symbol of festivity, saliently reminds of child labourers engaged illegally in hazardous firecracker manufacturing industry. Only few realise that the firecrackers used in Diwali celebrations are made by small children in unhealthy and perilous environment. Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu produces 90 per cent of total fireworks output in India that have about 35 per cent children in the total labour force (estimated to be 200,000). Forced to work in unhealthy and dangerous conditions as bonded labourers, cases of children getting sick and dying in an early age due to exposure and handling of toxic substances is very

common.

On basis of its adverse impacts, recently the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has filed a petition on putting a ban on bursting firecrackers on the grounds that they cause pollution and promote child labourer. India, like many other countries, has imposed serious restrictions on handling, storage, transportation, import and export as well as burning of firecrackers through the Explosive Act of 1884. But like many other acts, the Explosive Act is not being seriously implemented. For example, in spite of strict restriction on import, firecrackers from China are easily available in the market.

Diwali is not the only culprit. loud fire crackers have become a part of every celebration, be it a marriage function or victory processions of candidates winning in elections. This calls for urgent attention of the NGT to take serious action against the culprits. The petition also demands for constant monitoring over silent zone areas where no firecrackers should be burst and more vigilance from the authorities on this issue. Though it violets the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000, issued under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, most people prefer noise and pollution to lights as part of Diwali celebration. Every year the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is out with disappointing statistics of noise and air pollution. Every year there is huge cry on pollution prior to the festival of Diwali; there are huge campaigns to go green and celebrate Diwali in an eco-friendly manner. Yet every year the CPCB report on post Diwali pollution proves that joy of a few minutes always overpowers the social and moral obligations.

Some questions of concern pinch here. Why people let this pollution escalates every yearIJ Why people, well aware of the adverse impact for their action, choose to remain oblivious to this grim problem that affects their children and future generation that has no immediate remedyIJ Is that noise of bursting crackers so pleasing to our ears that we prefer to ignore environment and healthIJ Most of the people are habituated of this mess as it has become an annual affair. No one follows the rules formulated on Deepavali.

Authorities concerned also don’t take it seriously to impose rules and avoid any violation of the Supreme Court directions.

Animals are the worst victims of this menace causing excessive noise and air pollution in name of celebration. Apart from being panic of the noise, it is a common habit to enjoy sadistic pleasure by throwing blazing firecrackers on dogs and other animals. In many places owls are sacrificed during Diwali times, as a ritual and their body parts are used in black magic rituals by black magic practitioners known as ‘tantriks’.

leave aside numerous accident cases, Diwali firecrackers damage ecology as much as other regular pollutants pollute the environment over the years. Aftermaths of the celebration gets even worst with roads littered with deluge of garbage and remnants of fireworks. But people seem to have forgotten that Deepavali is a festive of lights, not smoke and pollution. lighting a lamp in Diwali symbolises destruction of all negativities and ignorance through knowledge. But despite all instructions, campaigns and appeals, the dark Diwali night gets even darker by getting polluted with toxic gases, solid wastes and noise nuisances.

 

(The writer is a freelance journalist)

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