The ‘green Diwali’ oxymoron

A worker prepares firecrackers at a workshop ahead of Diwali on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. AFP

A green Diwali is a contradiction in terms and can only remain an ideal. Among the festivals in the country, it poses the worst threat to environment because of the high levels of air and sound pollution that it causes. That is why efforts have been persistently made in various ways to bring down the use of fireworks in the Diwali season, especially on Diwali day. Some restrictions prescribed by the Supreme Court through an order last week are part of those efforts. The court has restricted the use of fire crackers to two hours, between 8 pm and 10 pm on Diwali and to other two-hour windows on Christmas and New Year, banned their online sale and proposed the use of ‘green’ crackers. It has also told local administrations to identify public spaces for bursting of crackers and banned the use of certain types of crackers. 

The court has, in its order, tried to balance various 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. A fine balance between all these extremely varying and even contradictory interests is not possible, and that is why there are serious doubts about whether the court’s prescriptions will work. Last year, the court had prescribed a ban on crackers but it was totally violated everywhere. It also led to the propaganda by Hindutva groups that Hindu festivals were being targeted. The court moderated its order probably because it could not be enforced last year. But implementation will be a problem this year, too. The court has said that the police should enforce the order or will have to face contempt of court action. Even worse, punitive measures may not lead to a successful implementation of the order. The police does not have the infrastructure, facilities and manpower to implement it. 

If only certain types of crackers can be used and only for a limited period, the huge stocks which have been made and stored will become useless. Curbing the use of crackers can be effective only if there are curbs at the manufacturing end. This is not easy without addressing the livelihood problems it might create, but then the right to life of citizens should receive a higher priority. Manufacturers should 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 not been entirely futile and there is better awareness now. It is necessary to build on it.

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The ‘green Diwali’ oxymoron

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