Following a year that was challenging in every aspect, Diwali has finally arrived. However, in the living memory of most, never before has a firecracker ban been implemented with this ferocity.
The National Green Tribunal, earlier this week, issued notices to 18 states and union territories where the air quality was not satisfactory while banning the sale and use of firecrackers in the National Capital Region for the entire month starting November 9. Many other states have joined the mindless secular bandwagon.
Delhi, to begin with, has imposed a complete ban on the sale and use of firecrackers. Chandigarh has done the same. Haryana, after announcing a total ban, has allowed for the bursting of firecrackers between 8 PM and 10 PM on November 14 and November 30th (Gurpurab). Jammu & Kashmir has also allowed only a two-hour window for the bursting of firecrackers. Similar windows have been permitted in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Kerala, Puducherry, and Tamil Nadu.
The states that have ordered a complete ban on firecrackers include Tripura, Sikkim, Nagaland, Odisha, West Bengal, and Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh, sale and use of firecrackers have been banned in 13-pollution hit districts which include Lucknow, Noida, Greater Noida, Varanasi, Agra, and Kanpur. Maharashtra too has banned firecrackers in 9 districts.
To put it simply, a complete ban on firecrackers is scattered across the country, and most states have only allotted a two-hour window for the use of firecrackers. Is any other festival in India subjected to such time constraints and limit? The answer is no.
Madhya Pradesh is an exception where the Chief Minister himself announced on Twitter on November 9 that there will be no restrictions on bursting firecrackers in the state.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been infamous for its environment pursuits. In 2016, the NGT asked the Union Environment Ministry and Delhi government to explore alternative modes of cremation for Hindus, as the existing methods led to river pollution.
In 2017, the tribunal went a step ahead and directed devotees to maintain silence before the Amarnath shrine. After a lot of protests, the tribunal clarified that the ban was not on chanting of mantras. In the same year, the tribunal capped the number of devotees per day in Vaishno Devi at 50,000 per day while ordering to halt all other construction activities.
Interestingly, the NGT had little to say for the past month when stubble burning was going on in Punjab, unchecked, and at a greater scale than last year. The NGT wasn’t alone guilty of being silent, as the Centre to turned a deaf year to the growing problem of air pollution in NCR, resulting in smog, and eventually, maintained a deadly silence when firecracker bans were announced across the nation in varying proportions.
What stopped the Prime Minister from doing what the Chief Minister in Madhya Pradesh could? The Bharatiya Janata Party, both as a political party, sympathetic to Hindu interests and as the largest party in the Centre, sympathetic to ease of doing business, has ushered a dangerous precedent with respect to Diwali that will only be amplified in the following years.
The firecracker ban is no anomaly, but a call that will become routine in the years to come. BJP’s endorsement of the same is problematic for many reasons.
Firstly, the entire question of banning firecrackers originated from the smog that was witnessed in NCR for the last three to four weeks. However, the cause of pollution in NCR goes way beyond firecrackers, which many have chosen to attribute as the leading cause of pollution.
In 2016, IIT-Kanpur conducted a detailed study of the cause of pollution in Delhi. The report was then submitted to the Delhi government and Delhi Pollution Control Committee. While citing numerous reasons for pollution in the region, the report had no mention of firecrackers. Road dust, industrial stack, vehicular movement, concrete batching, hotels and restaurants were cited as leading causes of pollution.
However, the report did not skip the mention of Diwali as a contributor to the depleting air quality, given the crackers involved. For the duration between 2010 and 2015, across 1891 days, the levels of Particulate Matter 2.5 were hazardous for 8 Diwali days and very unhealthy for 2 days. These days included the day of Diwali and the following day. Interestingly, for the same duration, there were 469 days of very unhealthy levels and 154 days of hazardous levels. Additionally, there were 632 days of unhealthy PM 2.5 levels.
The story was the same for PM 10 levels. For the same number of hazardous and very unhealthy levels days, there were 188 days of hazardous levels and 340 days of very unhealthy levels. So much for attributing the pollution of the region to Diwali alone.
Two, much of the pollution currently in NCR and surrounding regions can be attributed to the stubble burning that’s been going on in Punjab. However, the centre did not step in to take any action. To say that the state government should have acted is pointless, given the Chief Minister, there has been leading the agitating and mislead farmers against the recently announced agri-reforms. This was the year when the Centre should have thought ahead of the state.
However, the problem in Punjab is not a one-party issue, given all political parties have chosen to maintain a convenient silence.
This year, most cases of stubble burning were reported from Sangrur, the sole Lok Sabha constituency of Aam Aadmi Party. While Kejriwal projects himself as the saviour of Delhi with ads and innumerable PR stunts, his party’s lone Lok Sabha constituency is adding fuel to the fire. Patiala, the constituency of Preneet Kaur, wife of the CM, registered more than 4000 cases of stubble burning this year. Ferozepur, a stronghold of the SAD, a silent ally of the BJP, recorded more than 5500 cases.
Thus, the government in the centre did not tackle any party or the problem at large and chose to simply pluck the lowest hanging fruit- firecrackers. Given stubble burning occurs around Diwali each year, should people in the region brace themselves for a Diwali without crackers forever?
Three, the ban spells doom for the traders in the firecracker business. The state governments have arbitrarily have gone for complete bans or constrained time windows for the bursting of firecrackers. This has dented the demand, crashed the prices, and has led to an uncertain future for the traders in hubs like Kurali (Punjab) and Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu).
Worse, the ban has come close to Diwali. By this time, most traders and sellers had already purchases firecrackers worth millions of rupees to sell. Now, most of them are staring at a loss. Also, for a nation in the middle of a recession, how is it sensible to ban any business at this hour, especially when the challenge is to get the demand back on its feet?
For the government that has been cheering the idea of ‘vocal for local’, the endorsement of the firecracker ban is sheer hypocrisy. Through their silence and the resulting last-moment prohibitions, they are forcing more and more traders to quit the firecracker business, and eventually, instil the idea of a ‘quiet Diwali celebration’ into the minds of the population. Again, not an anomaly, but a dangerous precedent.
Lastly, what are we teaching our children? No government or tribunal can attempt to tweak the spiritual aspect of any festival, but what about the fun part? Go back to the 90s or early 2000s and you had children eagerly looking forward to the festival for one simple reason- the firecrackers. Today, the children are being robbed of that fun.
If this goes on for a few more years, the biggest festival of the country will be diluted to a point of no-return resulting in a cultural erosion previous generations toiled hard to preserve.
The BJP has endorsed a commercial and a cultural disaster by allowing the ban on firecrackers to sustain.
For the BJP states that allowed the celebration for two hours, the question is that can they show this high handedness to any other festival? Can the governments dare to direct people when to venture out on Christmas, when to sing their carols? Can the governments dare to direct anyone went to visit the mosque on the occasion of Eid or restrict the exchange of pleasantries to two hours?
The answer is no, the government should not interfere with the rituals and festivals of any religion. However, the BJP government, taking the bait of perception building before a few western woke activists have diluted the one festival each Hindu looks forward to. Also, they won’t care or dare to do the same on any other celebration. The silent majority is being taken for granted, perhaps.
Attempting to solve the problem of air pollution is not a sin. However, projecting a pretentious charade of being eco-friendly by attacking one festival alone while maintaining a deadly silence across the previous month over stubble burning is sheer hypocrisy, one that the ruling party has endorsed. To put in a theoretical physics analogy, the tribunals and state governments are claiming work done by pushing a wall.
Wishing you all a Happy Diwali. Do exchange lots of sweets and light many lamps before they invent reasons to make them illegal as well.
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