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Insights into Editorial: No fireworks: On NGT ban on sale and use of firecrackers

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Context:

In the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it should surprise no one that the National Green Tribunal has prohibited the sale and use of firecrackers during Deepavali in the National Capital Region of Delhi and in urban centres that recorded poor or worse air quality in November last year.

With Diwali round the corner, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued notices to 18 States, including Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, on prohibiting firecrackers, expanding the scope of pleas filed before it seeking a ban on sale and use of crackers in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The directions expand on Supreme Court orders issued in the past, and provide some concessions to cities and towns that have moderate or better air quality, by allowing “green crackers” and specified hours for bursting.

These stipulations are to extend to Christmas and New Year if the ban continues beyond November.

How firecrackers are harmful?

  1. Firecrackers can cause severe effects in the health of people like heart diseases, respiratory or nervous system disorders.
  2. Even the people suffering from common cold and coughs can cause congestion of throat and chest.
  3. Noise pollution causes restlessness, temporary or permanent hearing loss, high blood pressure; sleep disturbance and even poor cognitive development in kids.
  4. Firecrackers contain chemicals and substances like cadmium, lead, chromium, aluminium, magnesium, nitrates, carbon monoxide, copper, potassium, sodium, zinc oxide, manganese dioxide etc. which if accumulated can eventually damage health if inhaled or ingested.

NGT bans firecrackers in places where air quality is “poor”:

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed that there would be a total ban on sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers between November 10 and 30 in all cities and towns across the country where the average ambient air quality in November fell under the ‘poor’ and above category.

A Bench headed by NGT Chairperson also directed that in places where the ambient air quality fell under the ‘moderate’ or below category, only green crackers would be permitted to be sold and timings restricted to two hours for bursting of crackers.

The Tribunal also directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State pollution control boards and committees to regularly monitor the air quality during this period and upload the data on their respective websites.

NGT wants to give primacy to the precautionary principle over employment and revenue losses:

  1. The NGT took note that Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Chandigarh, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Calcutta High Court had already responded to deteriorating environmental conditions by banning firecrackers this year.
  2. The tribunal’s reasoning giving primacy to the precautionary principle in sustainable development over employment and revenue losses is understandable.
  3. As the impact of COVID-19 became clear in March, and there were fears of a case surge during the winter, it was incumbent on the Centre to work with States and resolutely prevent the burning of farm stubble ahead of Deepavali.
  4. This annual phenomenon unfailingly fouls the air across northern and eastern India, and imposes heavy health and productivity costs.
  5. In the absence of pollution from agricultural residue, there might have been some room for a limited quantity of firecrackers, although climatic conditions at this time of year, of low temperature and atmospheric circulation, would still leave many in distress.
  6. Only damage control is possible now, including steps to address the concerns of the fireworks industry.
  7. Even without the risk of a COVID-19 surge, it should be evident to policymakers that their measures under the National Clean Air Programme, which seeks to reduce particulate matter pollution by 20% to 30% by 2024, must be demonstrably effective.
  8. By the government’s own admission, there were 148 days of poor to severe air quality during 2019 in the NCR, down from 206 days the previous year. Many other cities have a similar profile, but get less attention.

Green Crackers: Facts at a Glance:

The green crackers developed by the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) include flower pots, pencils, sparkles, and chakkar.

No doubt that green crackers are environment-friendly and are developed to reduce air pollution that causes health hazards.

Air pollution is one of the most serious environmental problems confronting our civilisation today.

Mainly, it is caused by human activities like mining, construction, transportation, industry, etc. Also, some natural phenomena are also responsible like volcanic eruptions, wildfires etc. But their occurrence is rare and mostly it causes a local effect.

Firecrackers on Diwali are some of the other way responsible for air pollution. So, to minimise air pollution green crackers are developed.

  1. Green Crackers are formulated by CSIR-NEERI that has no barium nitrate which is one of the key ingredients of traditional firecrackers.
  2. Names of these crackers are: “safe water releaser (SWAS)”, “safe minimal aluminium (SAFAL)” and “safe thermite cracker (STAR)”.
  3. These crackers will release water vapour or air as a dust suppressant and diluent for gaseous emissions.
  4. These products can only be manufactured by those who have signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with CSIR-NEERI.
  5. Only those green crackers will be sold that consist of a unique logo on the box, and also have a QR code with production and emission details.

Conclusion:

With 40% of all pollution-linked deaths attributed to bad air quality in leading emerging economies and some evidence from the U.S. on higher COVID-19 mortality in highly polluted areas, it is time governments showed a sense of accountability on the right to breathe clean air.

Tamil Nadu, where 90% of firecrackers are produced, has legitimate concerns on the fate of the industry this year, which, producers claim, represents about ₹2,300 crore worth of output.

A transparent compensation scheme for workers, and suitable relief for producers may be necessary, although the longer-term solution might lie in broad basing economic activity in the Sivakasi region, reducing reliance on firecrackers.