Politicians obstruct ideas that can make our festivals safe
When the Supreme Court banned sale of fire crackers this month in the National Capital Region and Delhi, Mumbai residents, who have been campaigning for a cleaner Diwali, were hoping for similar relief.mumbai Updated: Oct 15, 2017 19:22 IST
Last Monday, Mumbai enjoyed its cleanest air since June 2015, when the city began measuring air pollution. The air quality index (AQI) -- a standard measurement used across the world to measure air polluton -- on the day was 35 for PM2.5 (Particulate Matter, a mix of chemicals, organic particles, 2.5 microns in size or smaller, that can get lodged in the lungs, spurring infections).
An AQI level below 100 is good, a range between 101 and 200 is moderate, 201-300 is poor; anything above is hazardous. Mumbai’s air quality improved further three days later, falling to 32. One reason for the good air quality was the rains that have been washing away atmospheric pollutants.
Alas, the week of relatively fresh air could be the last this year. Diwali is around the corner and, as doctors and people with respiratory problems will tell you, the festival takes Mumbai’s air pollution to hazardous levels. As this newspaper reported, the AQI on Diwali 2016 (October 30) was 278. The next day, when pollutants from millions of firecrackers burst during the night hung in the air, the AQI was 315.
When the Supreme Court banned sale of fire crackers this month in the National Capital Region and Delhi, Mumbai residents, who have been campaigning for a cleaner Diwali, were hoping for a similar relief. The hopes were bolstered when the state’s environment minister said that Diwali celebrations should be firecracker-free. He said he would get the Maharashtra chief minister’s support for the idea.
The backlash from other politicians forced the minister to withdraw his commitment. One politician, whose party is struggling to stop an exodus of its members, asked why there were bans only on Hindu festivals.
The politician got it wrong. Nobody is seeking a ban on Hindu festivals; they are asking for restrictions on practices that have become public health hazards. When the Supreme Court heard an appeal filed by firecracker traders and manufacturers against the ban last week, it said it knew some people were giving the court order a ‘communal tinge’.
Mahesh Bedekar, a doctor from Thane, who has filed petitions in the courts to enforce noise pollution rules, said, “There is no question of religion. I celebrate Diwali and I tell my child that I had made mistakes – we used firecrackers in our childhood - and that we need to change, not because the Supreme Court says so, but for our own good.”
Bedekar said politicians are wrongly assuming that people don’t want change. “People will understand. Use of firecrackers has reduced in the past 10 years, but it has to stop,” he added.
Swati Patil, a social activist who successfully petitioned the courts to make dahi handi, where young children are enlisted to create unsafe human pyramids, safer, said politicians were being dishonest when they linked religion to hazardous customs during festivals. When she sought more safety regulations for the festival, her biggest opponents were festival groups led by politicians.
“Politicians try to bring a religious angle to everything,” said Patil. “Firecrackers are used in all kinds of celebrations, not just Hindu festivals. It affects everyone’s health, but politicians are not bothered about common good.”
There have been other instances where politicians have acted in complete disregard of public good. In July, the Maharashtra government wrote to the central environment ministry, asking for abolition of silence zones – areas around schools, hospitals and religious places, where there is a ban on use of loudspeakers. This request was made for Ganpati and Gokulashtami too.
Dr Narendra Dabholkar of Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmulan Samiti, who led a campaign for the enactment of theMaharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013, had told this reporter that the bill was being watered down to keep political parties happy. Dabholkar was murdered in August 2013.
“I don’t understand how any politician or leader can take a view which is totally against public health,” said Bedekar.