What can a few hours of bursting firecrackers do? It’s just one evening in a year, right?
People, police and politicians conspired on Sunday to defy the Supreme Court ban on firecrackers made with banned chemicals, arguing the ban is against Hindu festivals
naNot just Lutyen’s Delhi, where ministers, MPs and senior officials live, in most other cities in the country on Diwali day, the ban on firecrackers was defied with merry abandon. Crackers continued to be burst until 2.00 and 3.00 am, and the sulphuric fumes even lingered indoors in some places. Sparklers, bombs, rockets and every other firecracker was on display. Was there really a ban?
There has been no dearth of justifications on Monday, the day after. Doesn’t the rest of the world burst crackers on New Year’s Day? How much harm can firecrackers do in four to six hours? Why not reduce air pollution the rest of the year? Why is the Supreme Court against Hindu festivals? What about adulteration of fuel in outlets owned by politicians (of the Congress kind!) and didn’t Congress overturn the SC judgment on Shah Bano case?
Such indignant questions were raised throughout Monday on both TV channels and social media. Delhi Police has been dutifully silent and BJP leaders in Delhi like Kapil Mishra have reportedly declared that they are proud of Delhi and its people.
Opposition MPs like Manish Tewari of the Congress and Saket Gokhale of Trinamool Congress, who sarcastically congratulated the people and ministers in Delhi for adding to air pollution, were at the receiving end of trolls who angrily condemned them for being anti-Hindu.
Speaking to the news agency ANI, Tewari had this to say, "If you look at the AQI levels across various cities in India, they ranged from very poor to hazardous... It is ironic that a country that could close down at four hour's notice for a lockdown cannot control or implement a Supreme Court order... Obviously, there was a lack of will and no enforcement."
Gokhale was more direct and scathing. “BJP’s idea of Hindu pride is choking you & your children with toxic air & destroying your cardiac & lung health by asking you to burst crackers. Remember, these rich netas of BJP live with multiple air purifiers in Lutyen’s houses & have access to the best medical treatment. They never had to scramble for oxygen during Covid like you did. By falling to their toxic communal agenda, you’re only destroying your own families. When you’re down, they won’t be there for you,” he posted.
The media remains a major culprit, having failed to communicate the real risks to health from firecrackers that contribute to poor air quality and also the fact that BJP leaders were among those who campaigned for the imposition of a ban on firecrackers.
The then health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, himself an ENT specialist, had sought a ban and so did a ‘little-known Delhi-based NGO Indian Social Responsibility Network (ISBN)’ which had as members of its governing body such BJP stalwarts as Mallika Nadda, wife of BJP president JP Nadda, and MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe.
Expert opinion that winter is especially hazardous for people with asthma, COPD, and other lung ailments have also failed to percolate to the people. Unlike in summer months, when hot air from the ground level wafts up and gets colder as it goes higher — ensuring circulation of air — the air cannot go up in winter because of the veil of hot air that covers the cold air below. Pollutants in winter months, therefore, tend to remain closer to the ground.
Experts also explain that not all pollutants are equally harmful. In a recent article , one of them said the difference is between inhaling talcum powder and cyanide powder. Particles originating from the burning of diesel are carcinogenic by nature and highly toxic to the human body. The dust on the ground need not be harmful, but when chemicals emitted by fumes from vehicles, power plants, industries and of course firecrackers fill the air in winter, the effect becomes far more intense.
The SC’s 11 November 2016 ban order on firecrackers had come on a petition by three children, Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin. On 12 September 2017, however, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta modified the 2016 order and allowed temporary licences for the sale of crackers in Delhi-NCR. This was on a plea by firecracker manufacturers.
Delhi Police statistics presented in the SC showed that from 2016 to 31 August 2023, 926 cases were registered for the sale and storage of firecrackers and 3,120 for bursting crackers. The police arrested 2,616 persons for bursting crackers and 740 for sale and storage. The police also claimed that nearly 52,000 kg of firecrackers was seized in Delhi between 2016 and August 2023.