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

The economics and politics of ecological cause

After the SC ban last year, production of firecrackers fell drastically and many lost jobs. Green crackers are aimed at securing livelihoods
The economics and politics of ecological cause
seeking a solution: Delhi’s position, wind and weather conditions make it a bad case of air pollution around this time of the year

Vibha Sharma in New Delhi

It is hard to tell when a festival of diyas and mithai became an occasion to burst firecrackers that damage both environment and health; or when bursting crackers on  Diwali became a question of faith, an essential part of Hindu rituals... While firecrackers are part of celebrations world over, it is their composition and the way they are manufactured and handled that make them such a cause of concern in India.

Every year, reports of workers getting injured in firecracker factories and users suffering severe physical injuries and health issues due to environmental pollution make the headlines. In 2018, the Supreme Court intervened with a ban on conventional firecrackers, but not much changed in the months that followed.

Question of livelihood

Just like the case with single-use plastics, the government recognises that it is not possible to shut down an industry that provides livelihood to lakhs.  The Tamil town of Sivakasi alone accounts for nearly 90 per cent of India’s total firecracker output. After the SC ban last year, production fell drastically, resulting in economic and job losses. Traders in Delhi, too, suffered losses.

Meanwhile, members of the right-wing groups, asked why similar restrictions were not imposed on festivals of other religions. Even those who favoured the ban believed the restrictions were against ‘Hindu sentiments’. Health and Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan, who was the Environment Minister then, got trolled for tweets welcoming the verdict. An environment ministry official in the know of things said Vardhan received complaints from traders in his own constituency. The ban was flouted with impunity and people did not just buy firecrackers from outside the NCR, they burst them well beyond the deadline. 

Green fireworks to the rescue

After a rather gloomy Diwali last year, the government has now come out with ‘green crackers’, with “reduced emission of harmful chemicals and low sound in line with the guidelines of the courts”. Launching them on October 5, Harsh Vardhan said these were aimed at addressing “the crisis of air pollution, sentiments, religion and business...” He said the environment-friendly fireworks developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) were available in the market.

“Due to the SC ban, there was a threat of imminent closure of the fireworks industry. However, science came to the rescue of the common man and millions of jobs have been saved due to the interventions made by our scientists,” Vardhan said.

The government has set up emission testing facilities for new crackers and launched a Raw Materials Compositional Analysis facility at Sivakasi to facilitate manufacturers for testing raw material and chemicals. About 530 emissions testing certificates have been issued for “new and improved formulations meeting stipulated guidelines of green crackers with reduced emission light and sound and 30 per cent reduction in particulate matter”, which form the main ingredient of the smog in post-Diwali days in Delhi.

Improvements in conventional formulations based on barium nitrate, a key ingredient, to meet stipulated norms of ‘green crackers’ are subject to approval of the SC. CSIR-NEERI, along with Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), Central Pollution Control Board and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change have also evolved a ‘clear definition of green crackers’ with a view to educating regulators and the public on the ways and means to demarcate green crackers from conventional crackers.

Apart from defining ‘green crackers’, baseline values for benchmarking and assessing barium levels in conventional crackers and green crackers have been laid down for legal and policy interventions. Green crackers come with a green logo as well as a Quick Response (QR) coding system for differentiation from conventional crackers. This is to avoid manufacture and sale of counterfeit products and help consumers track the cracker using smartphones and other devices. The cost of green crackers is almost same as that of regular crackers.

Way forward

Delhi’s position, wind and weather conditions make it a bad case of air pollution this time of the year. Chemical toxins and PM-spewing firecrackers add to the build-up of smog, turning the Capital into a gas chamber with little respite for days together. This Diwali, with green crackers around, make an informed choice.

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