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No good reason to not regulate fire crackers use

Regulating use of fire crackers should not cause so much distress

mumbai Updated: Oct 12, 2017 01:07 IST
Smruti Koppikar
On Diwali nights last two years, Mumbai’s air quality index (AQI) breached permissible levels.
On Diwali nights last two years, Mumbai’s air quality index (AQI) breached permissible levels.

Mumbai’s air quality is way better than Delhi’s, even during Diwali. It’s a statement of fact as much as a statement of one-upmanship, often repeated with misplaced glee by Mumbaiites. Indeed, the air quality index numbers register lower levels for Mumbai than for Delhi at all times but it does not mean that air quality in Mumbai is healthy or within permissible limits.

On Diwali nights last two years, Mumbai’s air quality index (AQI) breached permissible levels: The morning after Diwali last year registered 320 which rated as “very poor”; it was 313 the previous year, also “very poor”, according to the System for Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR). Delhi registered an AQI of 450-500, even breaching the 500 mark last year, earning it international disrepute as the world’s most polluted city.

The spike in pollution levels during Diwali is, of course, directly linked to burning fire crackers. In a continuing effort to monitor their exact impact, the Supreme Court earlier this week banned their sale in the National Capital Region till November 1. This led to much brouhaha. Commentators questioned it on various grounds: how would banning sale help when burning them is allowed, why are fire crackers targeted when the sources of air pollution lie elsewhere, is this a selective curb on a Hindu festival and so on.

Of course, the major sources of air pollution whether in Delhi or Mumbai – or any Indian city – are vehicular emissions, road dust, garbage and landfill burning, construction activities and industrial emissions.

The average air quality regularly breaches the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other acceptable levels of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and dioxide, and particulate matter (PM). But during Diwali, the air quality is worse, and the PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels (particulate matters that are 2.5 or less and 10 or less) rise to extremely unhealthy levels. The WHO has labelled both PM 2.5 and PM 10 as carcinogenic.

Doctors and health activists have noted a marked rise in respiratory diseases during and after Diwali, especially among little children, senior citizens, and people with chronic respiratory problems.

Six of the most popular fire crackers emitted PM which was 200 to 2000 times of the WHO’s safe limits, showed a Pune-based study last year. As it is, lung function capacity of most Mumbaiites is compromised, as a limited study two years ago found; almost half of a hospital’s medical staff had weak lung function with some 30-year-olds showing the capacity of 50-year-olds.

Mumbai enjoys geographical and climatic advantages that Delhi does not. The sea breeze along its western and eastern waterfronts helps to clear away many pollutants routinely. But the city’s air quality has shown a dramatic drop in the last decade. Both empirical and anecdotal evidence show a rise in diseases and ailments linked to air pollution. Mumbai is the fifth most polluted megacity in the world, according to the WHO.

It will not do any more to brush off the impact of fire crackers. Sure, other activities that cause and raise air pollution should be regulated and existing laws implemented, but what is the harm in addressing a clear cause of raised pollution levels? The other activities like construction and transport at least have economic reasons; fire crackers are burned for pleasure.

Regulating their use should not cause so much distress. To see this with political or religious colour is to do ourselves disfavour. Bad and polluted air harms all, equally.

The two countries that Indians love to compare theirs with, the United States of America and China, do not allow all private citizens to burn fire crackers at will. Their sale and use are highly restricted. And citizens watch a public display of fireworks at designated places. They must have good reasons.

2017
  • No good reason to not regulate fire crackers use