As we celebrate Deepavali, the festival of lights, a day when homes are decorated with lights and greetings are shared, bursting of crackers is also part of our tradition.
However, the Supreme Court mandates the use of eco-friendly green crackers due to their less harmful effects on health and the environment, especially in a post-covid scenario.
In 2018, a couple of fathers, concerned about their newly born infants’ health, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court due to the increasing pollution in New Delhi, especially from October to December
Further, the crackers used during festivals such as Deepavali, Christmas and New Year worsened New Delhi’s already out of control pollution levels. This prompted this writ petition against the Union of India. The petitioners won the case.
What the order says
To summarise this order, there is a ban on the manufacture, sale and purchase of non-green crackers and ,importantly, the Supreme Court allows bursting of these green crackers only between 8 pm to 10 pm on festival days.
This ban is applicable pan India since 2018. This has been further clarified by the Supreme Court this year.
“A celebration by polluting environment is all about being “selfish”, the Supreme Court observed on November 7th, directing all states and Union Territories to comply with its orders of imposing curbs on bursting firecrackers during Diwali and at other times of the year.
Anjali Gopalan, a Delhi- based activist, founder of Naz foundation , ACGS, Board member Animal Welfare Board of India says that citizens of Delhi have been pushing for a blanket ban on crackers and the Delhi government is coming around to it. “A blanket ban on crackers not only helps people but also animals for whom sounds are much higher. Citizens have always been a part of this big fight to control pollution. It is and its gratifying to see citizen efforts in other states too ,” Anjali adds.
What are green crackers?
The CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR NEERI) defines green crackers as fireworks/ firecrackers made with a reduced shell size, without use of ash, low usage of raw materials and/or additives, such as dust suppressants to reduce emissions with specific reference to particulate matter (PM). Green crackers also produce nearly 30 % less noise when compared with conventional crackers.
Note : Consumers should look for this logo and a QR code while buying green crackers. Anything else is not green
The execution of this order, however, has been sporadic across the country.
In the recent hearing in the apex court on November 7th, which also rejected a plea to allow the sale of non-green crackers, the bench comprising Justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh observed that in the absence of banning firecrackers, green crackers is the only viable option. And the onus is also on citizens to ensure they celebrate responsibly and protect the environment.
Bengaluru’s community and citizen groups, in collaboration with relevant state stakeholders, such as Karnataka State Pollution Control Board ( KSPCB ), Bengaluru City Police, have created various initiatives and campaigns to promote use of green crackers. We profile some of them:
The Compassionate City, Bangalore, raises awareness
The Compassionate City, Bangalore, a community group, began addressing this issue in 2018. Their primary focus is to ensure citizens burst crackers in line with the Supreme Court orders between 8 pm to 10 pm on festival days.
Civic activist Priya Chetty Rajagopal, who runs the group, has been promoting this initiative across the city and urging citizens to use the police helpline 112 and report people bursting outside these set timings.
Priya says that she loves celebrating Deepavali. It is a festival that she looks forward to every year. However, as a responsible citizen she also felt the need to do something with the rising pollution levels in the city, which impairs the health of senior citizens, infants and the environment.
The Supreme Court’s order of 2018 came as a relief , she adds. It puts the onus on the police to implement it. The first call she made was to the SHO of her area and he was supportive. Since then, with focused efforts over the years and with constant engagement, she says her group has created an impact with a large network of citizens across the city.
It has been good to note that with each passing year, cracker sounds have reduced and people understand what it means to celebrate joyfully yet responsibly.
It is safe to say that if there is one active citizen group in Bengaluru which was the front runner of this initiative from 2018 it is The Compassionate City, Bangalore.
Here is the link to the Change.org petition that they initiated urging Police & GOK stakeholders to execute the apex court orders of 2018 on green crackers.
The Pollution Control Board’s efforts
The Karnataka State Pollution control board’s ( KSPCB ) demonstrated exceptional execution of the apex court’s orders on green crackers this year, especially in the light of the Attibele firecrackers warehouse catastrophe, which claimed 17 lives
As Member Secretary of the board, Prabhash Chandra Ray says: “A circular is just a piece of paper if it doesn’t lead to effective execution.” He and his team dedicatedly followed through with a circular, set up a multi stakeholder task force, comprising members from the BBMP, the police, the Health Department, Animal Husbandry, Transport and tax departments. The team has also been responsible for creating large-scale awareness across the state.
PACT’s initiatives in 2023
Public Health Action (PACT), a public health focused community group, has been working to get the state government to follow the SC guidelines on green crackers. Following their achievements during COVID-19 with the ‘Mask Up Please Campaign’, in collaboration with the BBMP, the group took the help of BBMP Marshalls to create awareness about the Supreme Court order in a couple of zones since 2021.
However, in 2023, the group felt they needed to take a more concerted, holistic and precautionary approach.
The group initiated a meeting with KSPCB, paving the way for the execution of the apex court orders regarding green crackers for Deepavali. PACT also initiated a letter to the Home Minister of Karnataka, G Parameshwara, to ensure the execution of the court orders in the state and brought attention to this issue through the media.
Additionally, the group along with The Compassionate City Bangalore, also met with relevant senior officials from the Bangalore police department, including the Commissioner of Police and DCP for the South East zone, requesting their support around the seamless execution of the court’s orders.
“Go green every festival, let’s face the consequences”
C.K Baba, DCP for the South East Zone says that his team of 30 Station Holding Officers have been sensitised about the rules and regulations around Deepavali. He says that both enforcing authorities and citizens have no choice but to follow the court’s orders. Many illegal sellers, licensees, and warehouses have been shut down by Bangalore City Police. Random checks are being conducted at check posts for individuals carrying non-green crackers from other states, with legal consequences for those found in violation.
A list of authorised green cracker stalls in the city would soon be released. As of November 10, 2023, 263 sellers have been granted temporary licenses after rigorous screening exercises by Commissioner of Police, Bangalore B. Dayananda and his team.
PACT also got BBMP Health and GOK Health departments to repost awareness material around celebrating the festival responsibly.
Bangalore Apartment Federation’s initiatives
Bangalore Apartment Federation ( BAF ) has also created a robust and specialised communication initiative, which would reach over 300,000 households ( via member apartment associations). This year, this communication exercise has been done in partnership with multiple groups.
Vikram Rai, Secretary BAF, highlights BAF’s extensive reach. He adds that the joint communication with other community groups could further help with reaching a much larger audience. He hopes to continue this model every year.
Engaging celebrities to raise awareness
In another initiative by Urban Venture Labs, Community 55, Citizens for Citizens and PACT well-known ex-RJ Sowjanya who has over 200,000 followers, was roped in to do a few awareness reels on Instagram and Facebook, in collaboration with KSPCB.
The wide reach of Community 55
Community 55, run by Yamuna Shastry, has advocated the use of green crackers to 15,000+ auto and cab drivers. The goal was’ Each One Reach One’. The Driver community has promised to advocate green crackers to 10,000 passengers in the coming days. Yamuna Sastry addressed 2,000+ auto drivers to pledge buying green crackers at an event organised on November 9th on the occasion of celebrating Late Shankar Nag Birthday.
The views of Slum Dwellers Association
John Samuel, Founder of Slum Dwellers Association, says that the group has access to 15 large slums across the city. They have been spending time with the children of these slums to create awareness on green crackers. He says that most of them didn’t know about green crackers and have already bought non-green crackers.
He says if only they had timely access to non-green crackers there would be no need for people to buy hazardous crackers from outside the city. Next year, he plans to conduct a more concerted awareness effort with the support of Bengaluru City Police and KSPCB. For now, he has disseminated information via WhatsApp and has reinforced the health and legal risks associated with bursting non-green crackers.
The seamless execution of the Supreme Court’s orders on green crackers needs collective will from both enforcing authorities and citizens. It won’t be surprising to encounter many people bursting non-green crackers. However, it is important to note where we were prior to the 2018 order and take heart in the efforts, especially from citizens, that have created a change.
It is reassuring to note that government stakeholders in Bengaluru don’t work in silos and collaborate with active citizens to drive change. Change, even if incremental, is good. For now, let us bask in that and, hopefully, in the coming years we will have clearer skies post festival days.
We wish the citizens of Bengaluru a safe and happy Deepavali!