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Thursday 31 July 2014
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For a cracker of a Deepavali

G Manjusainath

Mounting demand for fireworks of a million varieties has defiantly erased sporadic dreams of a cracker-free festival

Riding on the swanky, brand new Namma Metro, Bangaloreans are on a high. That upbeat, celebratory mood is bound to add more sparkle to Deepavali just round the corner.

Will that mean more crackers, more noise, more pollution and more injuries? Perhaps.
But the Supreme Court and the High Court aren’t inclined. They want the State to stop the blatant violations of guidelines on cracker sale and use. The Green City has suffered enough.

Loud, bombastic, spectacular. The crackers might be all that and more. But while millions of rupees go up in smoke, there are thousands who prefer a silent and colourful Deepavali. Several households are used to simply lighting up their homes with diyas to celebrate the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya. They wonder when bursting crackers became an integral part of the festival.

Today, as they remain mute spectators, the so-called “King of all Hindu festivals” has transformed into a season of noise — utterly unimaginable without crackers. The outcry against crackers had led to a senior advocate, B V Putte Gowda, filing a public interest litigation in the Karnataka High Court recently, demanding a ban on cracker bursting during the festival.


His contention was that crackers not only cause air and noise pollution, but also lead to a lot of health hazards and accidents.

Hearing his plea about a week ago, the Division Bench of the High Court, comprising Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen and Justice A S Bopanna, maintained that a blanket ban on the usage of crackers at this juncture would not be suitable.

The Bench observed that the PIL had come too late when a lot of investment on crackers had been made. The Bench, however, assured the petitioner that it would direct the Government to ensure that the guidelines laid by the Supreme Court on the use of crackers are strictly adhered to.

SC guidelines

The Supreme Court had issued several guidelines on the use of crackers in 2003. One key suggestion was that crackers should not be burst between 10 pm and 6 am. The guidelines also restricted bursting of crackers near hospitals, educational institutions and old age homes.

It also ruled that crackers should not generate noise beyond 125 decibels. One close look at the Deepavali celebration in Bangalore and you know each of these guidelines have been blatantly violated time and again.

On its part, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) had issued a directive that a packet of crackers must display the details of the noise it generates. Yet, during a raid by the KSPCB last year, it was found that many packets had no such details.

Besides pollution, the health hazards related to Deepavali have been a vastly ignored area. Ignorance of the safety precautions to be adopted while bursting crackers has led to several casualties over the years.

Injuries, particularly of the eye, are widespread. Last year, at least three children in the City lost vision in both their eyes due to cracker-related burns, while scores of people on the roads suffered injuries. This year, KSPCB has planned an extensive awareness campaign, essentially to curb accidents caused by crackers.

Notwithstanding the campaigns and pollution concerns, there has been no significant decline in the demand for crackers this year. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has given a list of 31 locations to the police, where make-shift cracker stalls could be set up. The police are the licensing authority for cracker sales.

Surge in demand

The huge number of applications for cracker outlets is an indication of the explosive growth in demand. Police officials dealing with the issue of trade licences said over 12,000 applications had been received for the 500 shops available in the City. The office of the City Police Commissioner has been busy screening the applications over the past one week.

“The number is swelling with each passing day. We could not start drawing lots since we were busy providing security cover to VIPs. With the delay, the retailers have started buying crackers from wholesale dealers. This would again be a big challenge for us,” explained a police officer.

An applicant, Raja, was in the police commissioner’s office seeking a trade licence for a shop in Basaveshwara Nagar. Raja had already bought crackers worth Rs 10 lakh and if denied licence, he said he would be nowhere. Another applicant, Rajath (name changed) alleged that the delay in allotting shops gave room for corruption.

“The process of drawing lots should have begun at least a month ago. But this never happens. Now that we have invested lakhs of rupees, we are bound to open shops illegally because we cannot afford huge losses. This is what policemen want because they thrive on these illegal activities,” Rajath pointed out.

Challenges
Another key stakeholder in the cracker business is the BBMP, which makes money from the makeshift shops. But all the moolah is spent on the garbage bill. The garbage quantity during Deepavali is twice the quantity generated on ordinary days.

“Garbage collection during festival seasons, particularly Deepavali, is always a big challenge for us. Besides mounds of garbage, we also have to deal with absenteeism of the transporters who do not show up for two days on the pretext of celebrating the festival,” lamented a Palike officer.

In view of these challenges, BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah appealed to the people to dispose of the garbage at the designated places and not litter on roads, footpaths and other public places. He has also asked people to take precautionary measures while bursting crackers.

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