Opinion: “We love Deepavali – we just need to cancel the noise and smoke…”

firecrackers during deepavali

Support Citizen Matters - independent, Reader-funded media that covers your city like no other.
The air over Bengaluru after Deepavali in 2016 was thick with smoke. Pic: Ashwin Kumar/Flickr.com

We are so lucky to be Indians and have so many festivals to celebrate and choose from. But there is also a need to draw some boundaries to ensure these festivals are equally joyful for all. The debate about firecrackers is often seen from a religious lens, and hence the arguments on it get drowned in ridiculous polarities, distracting us from the core problem. 

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act covers animal slaughter during Muslim and Hindu festivals (by allowing slaughter only in registered licensed abattoirs). Extremely loud music or prayers from religious establishments are covered by pollution laws. Deepavali, our beautiful festival of light, too is under the scanner, primarily because it can also result in a season of sound and air pollution. 

Over the years, the transition into the new year with diyas and lights, sweets and new clothes, has morphed into that with a million bombs and ostentatious spending on polluting firecrackers.

I have watched pourakarmikas clean in leaden silence the leftover paper from a one-lakh single firework ladi burst the previous day – money they will not see for a year, literally blown up in a night. They breathe in the acrid smoke, they cough, bend and they clean up.

Me, I loved the sparklers and fountains of my childhood – I hope some of them in their new green version would still be available. I would love to write Happy Diwali against the dark sky with my sparklers. 

These are unusual times, to say the least. Unfortunately after confirming a total firecracker ban for a year, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa did a U-turn, allowing green crackers.

However, nothing is lost, and we must simply go back to the Supreme Court 2018 directive which clearly says that crackers can be burst only between 8 and 10 pm on both days of Deepavali. (For Tamil Nadu alone, the timing is 5-7 am, since the festival is celebrated in the mornings there.) The SC judgement also mandated that only green crackers could be burst in Delhi, and asked other States to explore options to reduce pollution from crackers.

Similar rules apply for Christmas, New Year and Gurpurab (the jury is out on whether it applies to IPL and political rallies though! I presume they should be).

However, as citizens, we do need to be prepared rather than constantly be reactive, on the back foot, like we have been every year.

Since last month, I have been writing to the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, Bengaluru Administrator and BBMP Commissioner, State DGP, Police, Police Commissioner, DGP – Fire, and tweeting too. 

I have also drawn their attention to my online petition of 2018 requesting their support and implementation of the Supreme Court order. But there has been no response. 

What authorities should do

First, we need to know the number of firecracker shop licenses the police have issued. We also need to know how many of these facilities would be checked by BBMP and Fire Department as per rules. BBMP needs to check the infrastructure and condition of the shops, while the Fire Department has to check fire-hazard readiness.

During a citizen meeting on October 31, BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad said that no licenses had been issued to shops. Yet I see firecracker businesses doing excellent sales online. So from where is sales happening, and who is monitoring these?

Second, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) needs to be alerted about its role as a key monitor and stakeholder as well. In green crackers, commonly-used chemicals like aluminium, barium, potassium nitrate and carbon have to be either removed, or sharply reduced so as to slow down emissions by 15-30%. The Board has to ensure this is followed.

Third, we have to ask the Bengaluru City Police to issue a clear directive to its Station House Officers (SHOs) and teams to strictly follow the 2018 SC judgement. As per the judgement, the jurisdictional SHO would be responsible if citizens don’t comply with the rules on crackers.

We would recommend that adequate communication and zonal/ward-level announcements from the BBMP, Fire Department, Pollution Board and Police be sent out clearly, requesting adherence to the rules on green firecrackers and emphasising the penalties. In addition, crackers cannot be burnt within 100 meters of hospitals, schools or religious places.

We have barely two days left to implement this, so the administration should quickly pick up pace, particularly given the health impacts during COVID crisis.

Holding the administration accountable

An argument against banning firecrackers is that the livelihoods of retailers, manufacturers and their workforce would be lost. However, given court orders and governments’ push for green crackers, these stakeholders have had time to switch to this option.

The good news is, cracker sales have seen a steady decline in the last two years — I think it’s both the laws and our own ability to self-regulate owing to concern for the next generation. 

The administration must clearly inform the concerned public what steps they are taking to protect us and how seriously they are going to implement the supreme court directive in spirit and letter given the tremendous health crisis now. 

What is needed is WhatsApp messaging to all our elected representatives by citizens, holding them responsible for all measures to protect our health, safety and our #RightToBreathe. We don’t want them to back out of promises like the Chief Minister did – our administration owes us our life and our health. 

I would reiterate that most citizens are fully supportive of all festivals and this cracker ban is meant to be for all events like Christmas, Gurpurab and New Year’s; it is not specific to Deepavali. It is just that the quantum of firecrackers used is the most during Deepavali. All of us would much appreciate ideas and thoughts to protect ourselves this weekend. 

Until then I am keenly watching the Air Quality Index and the COVID cases chart. My life depends on it. Our lives.

Also read: 

[Disclaimer: This article is a citizen contribution. The views expressed here are those of the individual writer(s) and do not reflect the position of Citizen Matters.]

About Priya Chetty Rajagopal 5 Articles
Priya Chetty Rajgopal is a Bengaluru-based Executive Search Consultant, and a citizen activist.

2 Comments

  1. You buy a box of crackers burst them morning to night or burst in 2 hrs doesn’t make a differece. You have burst crackers in your childhood but somehow want others to not burst. 🙂 Hypocrisy much!

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. How did bygone Bengaluru celebrate Deepavali? A citizen recounts | Citizen Matters, Bengaluru

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*