Spotlight on Diwali: Environment or Entertainment?

Bishaldeep kakati

The return of Lord Rama from Lanka to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana was celebrated by lighting diyas, earthen lamps etc. And historically speaking, this is the primary reason behind celebrating Diwali or Deepawali, although different communities have different reasons for celebrating the same. Even if we flip over the pages of our books, we would find the mention of the festival of ‘Deepawali’, as a festival of lights. However, with the concept of modernization and changing trends, people have started shifting to electronic ways to light up their houses during this festival, but the age old tradition of lighting diyas still hasn’t been eliminated or discarded from the main scheme of things. But amidst this artistic and vibrant way of celebrating Deepawali, one thing that has indeed bothered the concerned citizens a lot is the upsurge of burning fire crackers as a means of celebrating the festival, which directly portrays an opposite scenario as compared to the historical and traditional modes of celebrating Diwali. But the bigger question is: How did the activity of burning of fire crackers make an entry to the Indian hemisphere especially during the time of Diwali?

Accounts of history provide us with no solid evidence to prove that fire crackers were burnt in India during the time of Diwali, before the Mughal era. In fact, during the Mughal rule as well, Deepawali was celebrated by lighting lamps, and to a very limited extent restricted to the Gujarat area, illuminative fireworks. After the Mughals, during the British rule as well, the uncompromising Explosives Act put a restriction on the manufacture and sale of materials used to create fireworks. But in 1940, the Explosives Act was amended making the manufacture of a certain class of fireworks legal. And the amendment of the Act created an opportunity for two marketing geniuses known as Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar, who created the first fireworks factory known as Sivakasi in 1940. Although it was back in 1923, when Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nagar planted the seeds, that later grew to become the phenomenon that is known as Diwali fireworks today. From then on, probably fireworks were used by the people as a mode of celebrating Diwali in India.

In reality, in the current context, it won’t be wrong to comment that in respect of India, Deepawali celebration and burning of fire crackers have become the two sides of the same coin. In fact, it is almost impossible to imagine a Diwali celebration without an amalgamation of the cloud of poisonous gases and loud unbearable noises covering the entire ambience for a period of 3-4 days or more. And the amount of fire crackers burnt by the people during the time of Diwali is simply enough to raise eyebrows. For instance, the capital city of New Delhi itself burnt around 50 lakh kilograms of crackers in the year 2018. And a consequent result of this activity is that New Delhi has been battling with the dilemma of severe air pollution since years. The air quality of Delhi is now in the ‘severe’ category with overall AQI clocking at 451.

The sad fact though is that the people at large have been completely ignorant that popular fire crackers such as fuljhadis, anar, chakri etc emit particulate matter (PM) 2.5 in level 200 to 2000 times the safety limit recommended by the World Health Organization as reported by India Spend on October 29, 2016. And even after that, neither the people nor the government of most of the states of India has taken appropriate steps to deal with this crucial issue.

The affect of fire crackers is such that it directly pollutes the environment, which indeed puts a negative impact on both human and animal health. However, since the burning of fire crackers affects the environment at a comparatively lower pace that is why people often don’t realize its ill-effects. And the visible outcome of this perception is that people keep on burning more and more fire crackers without even thinking about the environment once. The palpable fact is that fumes coming out from fire crackers emit gases like copper (causes irritation in the respiratory tract), cadmium (reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of blood, leading to anemia), lead (lead has a harmful effect on the nervous system), magnesium (magnesium fumes cause a condition known as metal fume fever), zinc (causes metal fume fever and also induces vomiting), sodium (sodium is highly reactive element and combines with moisture to cause burns). In fact burning of fire crackers can also turn out to be quite traumatic for pets as well. Apart from these, issues like water contamination, acid rain, air pollution, noise pollution etc are also quite relatable to the activity of burning fire crackers. But especially for the year 2020, the burning of fire crackers during the time of Diwali might aggravate another serious lingering issue.

The National Green Tribunal has already expressed its desire to impose a temporary ban on sale and use of fire crackers across 23 states and UTs amidst the double whammy of the pollution crisis and pandemic. It is a well established fact that people suffering from Covid-19 often face breathing issues and since fire crackers often cause respiratory problems, the scenarios might get worst with the burning of more and more fire crackers. And probably this is the reason the National Green Tribunal might have come up with this decision to put a temporary ban on fire crackers. Although a few of the researches reveal that burning of fire crackers might create more troubles along with the lingering pandemic, but a few of the reputed health professionals are of the opinion the same won’t be the case. But since the world is already encountering this deadly pandemic, people should be mindful enough to understand that they shouldn’t take any such steps that might possibly bring more threats to the mankind.

Therefore, instead of celebrating Diwali by burning fire crackers (which has no historical and traditional relevance), the denizens of the country can opt for celebrating a green Diwali. Houses, streets, offices, everything can be beautifully illuminated by diyas, earthen lamps or dazzling lights. The various NGO’s operating can also take initiatives like distributing sapling to people so as to let people plant more and more trees that would indeed help to purify the environment. But is it also necessary for the Courts to properly pass orders taking into account the provisions of stringent Acts like Air ( Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, otherwise it would be hilarious to have a pollution certificate for a vehicle on one hand, and on the other hand burn fire crackers without any restrictions. However, it is upon the people to decide: An everlasting pollution free environment or a week long entertainment to kill the environment?

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Nov 14, 2020

Bishaldeep kakati

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