Monday, November 18, 2019
facebook
Sunday Special » Kaleidoscope

Posted at: Oct 20, 2019, 7:40 AM; last updated: Oct 20, 2019, 7:40 AM (IST)

Green Diwali, will it be?

aThe technology for green firecrackers is in place and manufacturing has begun. However, with licences for selling these being granted to just a handful so far, it might be another year before you get your hands on them

Aditi Tandon in New Delhi

A year after the Supreme Court imposed a blanket ban on the sale of conventional firecrackers on Diwali, the Government has unveiled green alternatives to balance people’s right to mark religious festivals with the larger fundamental right to life.

At the heart of this new range of products called “green firecrackers” is the concept of drastic reductions in lethal gaseous emissions by either controlling or eliminating the pollutants that India’s traditional firecracker manufacturers routinely use. The most hazardous of these are barium nitrate, aluminium, ash, red lead, copper oxide and lithium. Developed by the apex industrial research body, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), for marketing this Diwali season, the new product line of green crackers has been broadly defined as reduced emission crackers that cut down on the use of harmful chemicals to reduce particulate matter emissions by at least 30 per cent upon bursting.

“We have developed two varieties of green crackers. One is the improved version that tweaks the current compositions to reduce their polluting potential. The second category is of new green formulations that substitute or reduce raw material use in ways to achieve 30 per cent reduced emissions as compared to baseline levels caused by traditional fireworks. The Supreme Court has accepted our definition of green crackers and we have gone ahead with guiding industrial production this year,” says Dr Rakesh Kumar, director at CSIR’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), which coordinated the product development to make this Diwali healthier and safer.

Eight CSIR labs collaborated to help India’s transition from conventional to green firecrackers after the then Minister of Science and Technology and Environment, Harsh Vardhan, dared the scientific community to find a solution that would protect people’s health, their right to celebrate and their right to livelihoods.

The effort at this transition began in 2017 when the SC, for the first time, banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR to check air pollution. Ruling on the petitions that two infants filed through their fathers subsequently, the SC, in 2018, banned conventional firecrackers on festivals setting for the first time an 8 to 10 pm deadline for fireworks on Diwali 2018.

The SC made it clear that only green fireworks — within the permissible limits of emissions — would be allowed and nothing else. However, the SC’s orders were flouted with impunity last season because green crackers were not available and old products were already flooding the markets. Result: Air Quality Index of Delhi post Diwali revealed higher levels of PM2.5, the most lethal of air pollutants as compared to Diwali day, November 7.

With green alternatives available this season, the question is will the fireworks industry comply? Random surveys about the availability of CSIR-developed new crackers in the market painted a grim picture. Most wholesalers in Delhi’s Sadar Bazar, the biggest firecracker market in the NCR, said they had not yet received licences for green firecrackers. “Even on Dussehra we had to do with the old stockpile of firecrackers because the licensing for the new category had not begun,” said a retailer who didn’t wish to be named. 

CSIR experts acknowledge that while product development was one challenge, getting the industry going and the licensing systems ready was a bigger challenge.

“We have developed new formulations without barium nitrate for some of the products of light and sound category of firecrackers, including Chinese crackers, maroons, flower pots, atom bombs, pencils and sparklers. These have the same light and sound effect as the traditional crackers and at least 30 per cent lesser emissions. Our samples meet the stipulated norms for green crackers. We have been demonstrating our products — SAFAL, SWAS and STAR firecrackers — to manufacturers since October 2018. So far, 230 MoUs and 165 non-disclosure agreements have been signed with the industry wherein CSIR will handhold them and train them for the transition. We have also issued 530 emission-testing certificates to manufacturers for both improved and new green versions. The licensing has to be done by another agency,” Dr Sadhana Rayalu, chief scientist at NEERI said, adding that it was now up to the industry to scale up product development as the CSIR has already shared the formula with them and trained them.

The ground situation is not all rosy though and old firecracker versions are likely to flood the markets yet again this season. Under the current law, fireworks manufacturers have to apply to the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) under the Ministry of Commerce for licences to manufacture CSIR-developed green cracker formulations for this season. Ground checks reveal only 28 manufacturers across India have so far got PESO licences — a negligible number given the scale of firecracker operations in the country. According to estimates, the industry — most of which is in the grey market — has over 2,000 manufacturers. No wonder then that the CSIR-certified and QR code-protected green crackers are yet to appear in the markets.

For law enforcement agencies, it’s a tough situation with police officials privately admitting that licensing for green crackers manufacture began lately and there may not be enough time to scale up supply to meet demands. How the SC reacts to the situation remains to be seen.

Meanwhile Harsh Vardhan, the incumbent Minister of Health, Science and Technology, who launched green crackers on October 5, remains hopeful that the industry will make the much-needed shift in larger public interest and rise to the challenge.

“It is commendable that our scientists have met the challenge in just one year. Green products are now available for the industry which will hopefully shift to healthier alternatives. The idea is to protect livelihoods and people’s health at the same time. The industry should not have a problem because the cost of production is the same as for conventional firecrackers and sometimes lesser because fewer chemicals are used,” Vardhan says.

WHAT ARE GREEN FIRECRACKERS

  • Fireworks with improved formulations to reduce emissions with specific reference to highly polluting particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. 
  • These products achieve a minimum PM reduction of 30 per cent; minimum 20 per cent reduction in gases emitted upon bursting of crackers. 
  • Their performance (sound and light effect) is at par with traditional crackers. There’s lesser residue by 5 per cent. The products are visually smokeless.
  • Green crackers reduce the use of polluting chemicals like barium nitrate and aluminium and dust, which conventional products use to prevent moisture from entering the crackers. 
  • Most green crackers used zeolites as additives. 
  • Zeolites undergo fragmentation upon cracker bursting and absorb lethal gases like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. It acts as a dust suppressant.
  • Green crackers reduce particulate matter (PM). PM 10 and PM 2.5 are fine dust particles that aerodynamically enter the lungs.
  • These have the potential to cause lung cancer. PM levels have been directly linked to high mortality and hospitalisations due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Green crackers reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide known to harm lung function by constricting them over long term exposures.
  • PM is the most harmful of all pollutants. WHO standard for permissible PM 2.5 level in the air is 10 micrograms per cubic metre but India’s corresponding standard is 40 ug/m3. 
  • On Diwali night last year, PM 2.5 had reached 325 ug/m3. A week after Diwali, the PM 2.5 level in parts of Delhi was as high as 444.
  • Severe pollution was indicated on account of crackers and a host of seasonal factors, including weather conditions and stubble burning by farmers in Punjab, Haryana and UP.
Who is licensed

  • Under the SC orders, only those firecracker manufacturers who are licensed by PESO can produce green products. So far only 28 manufacturers in India out of an estimated over 2,000 have been licensed. 
  • Among 28 licenced manufacturers, nine are in Rajasthan, six in Haryana, one in Gujarat, six in MP, four in Tamil Nadu and two in Maharashtra. 
  • The six licensed Haryana manufacturers are Sri Padmavati Pyrotech, Jeen Bhawani Fire Works, Vijay Lakshmi Fireworks, Sri Lakshmi Fireworks, Sri Rajlakshmi Fireworks and Gudiya Fireworks.

Industry’s worth

Rs 6,000 crore annual turnover 

5 lakh persons employed directly or indirectly

COMMENTS

All readers are invited to post comments responsibly. Any messages with foul language or inciting hatred will be deleted. Comments with all capital letters will also be deleted. Readers are encouraged to flag the comments they feel are inappropriate.
The views expressed in the Comments section are of the individuals writing the post. The Tribune does not endorse or support the views in these posts in any manner.
Share On