It is common folly that when taking on something calamitous, people pick on relatively small offenders. Asking for an end to bursting crackers during Diwali could be one of those superfluities.
These days it is no longer enough to talk of the “polluted weather”. We are now becoming accustomed to the “polluted climate”, which is all-pervasive. Pollution is now global and is present all year round. Given this preponderant reality, how far is it logical to just select Diwali and tell people, including the children, whom it would hurt the most, that since Diwali is environmentally degrading, we should not celebrate it at all, or at least not with crackers? No doubt it is polluting, but how long does the pollution last? Two days, maybe. Does anyone remember its “evil impact” after that? All the talk of pollution then meanders into things that actually go into the making of this foul climate. What Diwali does is at best a minor add-on to pollution.
I, for one, have been hearing of pollution from the 1970s. But nowhere was Diwali seen as a culprit. This was a festival that was the last before the annual examinations came in November. We remember buying crackers at least three days before they were burst. In Calcutta, where I spent my early days, Kali Puja, which comes a day before Diwali, is the festival celebrated. And so is Diwali. So for the people of that city, Diwali is a two-day or, if you include bhai-duj, a three-day festival. And the thread that ran through all the three was the pleasing, crackling sound of fireworks. Nowadays children have less and less space to play and enjoy. So why take away from them the day they love? Moreover, asking for a stop to bursting crackers is to stop being part of a living history that goes back 150 years at least. Many accounts of old cities are full of soul-lifting discussions how Diwali or Kali Puja tugged at the heart-strings of people.
Academic studies, including the ones from IITs, have proved beyond doubt that in urban areas the commonest sources of pollution are vehicles and construction. And they seem intractable problems. The courts have tried to give some palliative measures, and so have the governments. But the efforts, given the enormity of the problem, have been mostly ineffectual. And worse, people have not been very cooperative when the matter called for a bit of sacrifice on everybody’s part. Some would say in this people’s livelihoods might be affected. Well, then why should Diwali alone be blamed?
Next comes the big thing about politics that no democracy can do without. And it is turning a blind eye to a phenomenon, which has now been made illegal, or not so legal, by executive decree. How long this has been going on for I cannot tell but for the past several years the burning of the paddy straw and ground stubble in Punjab and Haryana after the harvest is held up as a factor in pollution in Delhi. And with the elections in Punjab due next years, and with the farmers being a powerful lobby, elections or no elections, who would dare implement the government order of taking punitive action against the burning of stubble?
Polluting factories along the river Ganga taint not just the environment but the river too. As is well known, the Ganga Action Plan, started in 1986, was not very successful and was withdrawn in 2000. A parliamentary committee report two years ago said in all Rs 2.2 lakh crore had been expended over 32 years on cleaning up the river, which takes in more than 2,000 million litres of waste a day, discharged by factories. What has been the movement on this? Precious little.
Against these giants, the harm done by Diwali is not even a drop in the ocean. Why not let it stay in the interests of our children?