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In China, debate on crackers continues amid tighter regulations

Sales of firecrackers are falling in China’s cities, tighter restrictions on the bursting of crackers are being put in place in most urban centres, and local governments are mulling more stringent laws.

world Updated: Oct 09, 2017 19:51 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Citizens celebrate China’s Lunar New Year with fireworks in Beijing in the morning of January 28, 2017.
Citizens celebrate China’s Lunar New Year with fireworks in Beijing in the morning of January 28, 2017.(Reuters)

It’s a debate that’s ignited every winter during the Chinese New Year, the biggest festival of the country – ban firecrackers or bear the pollution?

Bursting firecrackers during the Chinese New Year is as ubiquitous it is during India’s Diwali.

But gradually, if not easily, a winner in the debate is emerging in China: Sales of firecrackers are falling in cities, tighter restrictions on the sale and bursting of crackers are being put in place in most urban centres, and local governments are mulling more stringent laws.   

According to the official Xinhua news agency, at least 444 cities, including 10 provincial capitals, have banned fireworks or restricted the time and place to set them off.

There is, however, no country-wide ban and major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai continue to allow fireworks but with stricter regulations.

For anti-fireworks campaigners, the good news is that sales aren’t lighting up as they used to.

In Beijing, for example, fireworks sales during Chinese New Year have dropped by around 30% year-on-year, and by nearly 74% compared with the figures 12 years ago, a local official told state media.

State media earlier reported that local authorities have limited the sales of crackers in Beijing, approving 511 fireworks stalls in 2017, compared to 719 in 2016. State-run China Daily newspaper said no fireworks stall was approved in central Beijing. 

Beijing authorities are now planning to ban firecrackers within the fifth ring road of the city during the next Chinese New Year, which will be celebrated in early 2018. If the ban is implemented, vast areas of Beijing will be free of firecrackers for the first time in recent years.

“The proposed fireworks ban has split online opinion. Many support the idea, with some even suggesting a national ban, while opponents criticised it for killing off cultural traditions and questioned its effect on addressing the obstinate winter haze in Beijing,” Xinhua reported.

People make sure that all firecrackers have exploded during celebrations for the start of the Chinese New Year just before midnight in Beijing in February 2016. (Reuters)

Sometimes, public opinion can’t be ignored.

Last year, central Henan province had to lift a ban on bursting fireworks across the region after people said the measure went against Chinese traditions.

“Officials with Henan Provincial Environmental Protection Department said the government moved to lift the ban as it was decided that it would conflict with Chinese traditions,” a Xinhua report said.

People watch fireworks to celebrate the start of the Chinese New Year in front of a restaurant in Beijing on January 31, 2014. (Reuters)

But Shanghai, for example, has already put in place stringent restrictions. In 2016, Shanghai banned all fireworks in inner-city areas surrounding the outer ring road for the first time.

The way forward would be new “green firecrackers” that are less polluting, say experts like Rao Hui, chief environmental engineer in Nanchang city of Jiangxi province..

“If the public uses green firecrackers that cause very little pollution and have less explosive force, the matter will soon be settled,” Rao told state media.

Till then the debate will continue.