Are Green Crackers the Answer For an Air Pollution Free Diwali?
While air pollution is always a huge problem in Delhi, a national discussion erupts around it especially near Diwali. In October last year, the Supreme Court lifted the complete ban on the sale of firecrackers and in doing so, had directed that only the sale and use of “safe and green” firecrackers was permitted.
This year on 5 October, the Union Ministry of Science and Technology launched environment-friendly firecrackers to attempt to curb the rising, hazardous pollution levels. These safer crackers have been developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratories, reported PTI.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan added, said the new and improved crackers have been introduced to deal with the menace of pollution.
“I am happy to announce that we have green crackers with reduced emission by minimum 30 per cent. These are environmental friendly. We had appealed to our scientists to come up with an alternative to the polluting fire crackers so that people’s sentiment are taken care ofwithout harming the environment.”Union Minister Harsh Vardhan.
FIT had published an earlier piece on the SC verdict last year, where we spoke to experts to see how fully the order was implemented and how much impact green crackers will have on curbing pollution. We have republished that explainer in the light of these new announcements.
Question 1: There are just two weeks to Diwali. How will the authorities ensure strict enforcement of the order in such a short time across the country?
Speaking to FIT, Sumit Sharma, Associate Director, Earth Science and Climate Change Division, TERI, says only if the order is fully implemented and followed religiously will there be any reduction in pollution levels.
“Since there’s no blanket ban, firecracker bursting will invariably happen, flouting this norm. This should be done well in advance so that you can sensitise people. We always talk about crackers when there are 15 days left. This is the time to talk about next Diwali, not this Diwali. And if these violations happen this year, we’re heading towards a pollution problem similar to last year’s,” says Sharma.
On what basis has the SC calculated that two weeks is enough time to implement all of these regulations effectively?
“The time window is so small that enforcement will be difficult,” emphasises Sharma.
Question 2: The SC order says that Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) and the police shall ensure that sale and use of only “green” crackers is permitted. Do these authorities have enough capacity to effect this across the country?
There are hundreds of firecracker shops in every corner of every city. With Diwali two weeks away and Dusshera having just gone by, crackers for the season have already been manufactured and are out there in most these shops, and be assured that these aren’t safe and green ones.
So, does PESO and the police have enough personnel to go to each of these shops and check that they aren’t flouting norms? Leave alone checking the use of these crackers.
The order says that for any violation of sale or use of crackers, the Station House Officer (SHO) of that area will be personally held responsible for contempt of court. Then has the police force across the country been made aware of what they have to look for while checking for safety levels of the crackers available in the market?
Question 3: Are these “green” crackers really going to be safe?
The definition of a green cracker that the order gives is one that avoids usage of ash to reduce particulate matter by 15-20%, has low emissions such that pollutants are reduced by 30-35%, lead to significant reduction in NOx and SO2 and don’t have any of the banned chemicals like lead, mercury, lithium, arsenic and antimony.
Will such crackers not have any adverse impact on health of people and the pollution?
These reduced pollutants are still pollutants. If the air quality at the time we enter the festive season is already poor and hazardous due to other factors, will these “reduced pollutants” not increase the pollution levels? We’re already at a point where air quality has worsened and reached around 300 units, releasing any more amount of pollutants will not be “safe”.
Even if crackers are burst only for two hours and on one day but by millions of people, it’s still expected to sharply decrease air quality. Yes, it’ll reduce the effect to some extent, but is that enough?
Dr Rajesh Chawla, senior pulmonologist at Apollo Hospital, told FIT:
Any kind of sudden release of air pollutants causes an acute spike in health issues. It massively affects children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems. Kids are born with compromised lungs.
And for the rest of population as well this kind of air pollution is known to increase risk of cancer, diabetes, and cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Except on festive days like Diwali, Christmas and New Year, there’s no time limit to burst these crackers on other days around the year and at occasions like weddings.
“Why can’t the SC ban crackers? We are fighting so many problems and see so many people suffering because of this. There are other ways to celebrate,” adds Dr Chawla.
Question 4: Are there any crackers which comply to these norms? Or all this is for future manufacturing of crackers? If they’re talking about the latter, how much time will inventing a green cracker take?
Speaking to FIT, Environmentalist Darryl D’Monte says:
A PTI report quoted manufacturers saying that “there is no such thing” as green crackers: “We need to explain to the court that we cannot produce such (green) crackers. We may reduce the chemicals used in manufacturing. But it will take more time.”
“It’s just pulling wool over our eyes. Diwali is in a few days. It’s too little, too late. This order is just an eyewash,” D’Monte adds.
While the specified conditions for the manufacturing of these green crackers are great in theory, how effectively and quickly can such crackers be invented?
Question 5: The SC has directed governments to figure out areas for “community firecracking”, inform the public about these places where they can burn crackers, and take up extensive public awareness campaigns to spread the message of the order. What is the feasibility of this move, especially in just a fortnight?
The logistical difficulties, of implementing such a comprehensive process in such a short period, are immense. For example, how will the awareness campaigns succeed in telling consumers across the country which firecrackers they are allowed to burst, or how they can identify "green" crackers, when the system of marking such crackers has not even begun yet?
And if the order can’t be strictly enforced for this coming Diwali, then why did the court lift the complete ban on firecrackers? Why couldn’t the "green" cracker system be put in place first and then such specifications be directed?
We’re at a point where we can’t afford any further worsening of air pollution. So, if we can control even one factor that is increasing this pollution, why are we not doing so effectively?
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