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Diwali and the Environment

India is a land of myriad festivals and religious observances many of which are marked by noise. Diwali is one festival that combines sound and air pollution. India’s capital, Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world. The air has reached toxic levels. While burning of rice stubble in nearby Haryana has added to the pollution the release of chemicals from fire crackers will exacerbate the problem. The number of people with respiratory problems is on the rise and a time might come when residents of Delhi might have to carry oxygen cylinders to prevent themselves from choking. Some are already doing that while on their morning walks. In the rest of the country the problem of air pollution is not as severe but pollution caused by vehicular emissions is on the rise. As far as Delhi is concerned the Supreme Court has directed that only green crackers that conform to certain environmental norms be used but manufacturers have clarified that those are not yet manufactured and will be available only by Diwali 2019.
The firecracker industry in this country is a 6000 crore business with 1750 firecrackers manufacturing industries employing about 5000 families directly or indirectly. While hearing a petition to ban firecrackers, the Supreme Court in August this year said it needs to take into account all aspects, including the fundamental right of livelihood of firecracker manufacturers and the right to health of over 1.3 billion people in the country, while considering a plea for their ban. The apex court said it needs to maintain a balance while considering a countrywide ban on firecrackers.
India is now at the crossroads. Should the livelihoods of 5000 families supersede the right to health and life of 1.3 billion people? Considering that air pollution levels have risen across the country, any further addition of toxic elements into the atmosphere should have been restricted and the families involved in firecracker manufacturing should have been rehabilitated in some other livelihoods. The same argument was advanced when the Supreme Court came up with the ban on felling of timber in 1996 but the Court stuck to its stand and asked states to strictly implement the ban. So too the NGT ban on coal mining in Meghalaya. When caught between the health and lives of the majority and the livelihoods of the few the Courts have considered the former of greater priority. However, citizens too are expected to observe religious festivities with responsibility. The Courts cannot regulate every aspect of our lives.

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