From bursting crackers to polluting rivers, Indians are busy twisting the laws of nature
The residents of Delhi and the national capital region are used to bursting crackers from Dhanteras onwards. But it didn’t happen this year. Did the ban on the sale of crackers diminish their availability? Have the people become conscientious? Rather than wrestle with these questions, I chose to be relieved. But the peace and tranquillity didn’t last for long. The noise fest that began at 9 pm on Diwali continued well after midnight. All kinds of crackers were burst – those which could be heard from a distance and those that spread the maximum pollution. A few people had turned the ban into a question of religious identity.
I don’t understand it — irrespective of religious affiliations — how can the people of a country of nature worshippers praise anything that harms the environment? Apart from the damage these crackers inflict on the environment, why are people blind to the distress they cause to infants, the elderly and the ailing?
The agony caused on the night of Diwali was alleviated to an extent by the numbers which arrived the next afternoon. The air quality index of the next morning, which had touched 445 last year stopped at 340 this year. The Supreme Court’s decision has provided temporary relief. But a lot still needs to be done. Delhi and the areas around it are getting choked. Why do those advocating this forget that the Capital’s lungs are already running out of breath?
To gauge how alarming the conditions have become, consider this statistic. Studies by Delhi’s Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, AIIMS and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital indicates that lung cancer is spreading fast among the Capital’s youth. Earlier, 90% of those who suffered from the disease were addicted to smoking and the remaining 10% got it because of other reasons. Compared to the past many more people between 30 years and 45 years are getting affected. One of the biggest reasons for this is the increase in the number of noxious chemicals in the air. The real problem isn’t limited to air pollution alone. We are twisting the laws of nature in a number of new ways. This is having an adverse effect on the planet and its inhabitants.
Let me share a personal experience with you.
On Dussehra I was in Haridwar with my family. In this period the cleaning of the Ganga canal is suspended so that the festival of Diwali can flow without hindrances. We were surprised to see dozens of diyas immersed in a stream that is increasingly becoming extinct. A few people were doing acrobatics in the depleted stream under the garb of having a holy bath. Those throwing diyas and garlands in the water were unaware that a few metres downstream, the objects of their faith will be deposited on the dried bottom of the Ganga canal and would have to be disposed of by a municipality truck generally used to carry garbage.
From Gangotri to Ganga Sagar, this is the unfortunate manner in which lakhs of people abuse ‘Mother Ganga.’ Plastic bags, articles of clothing, garlands and other assorted objects are flung into the river to pollute this cradle of civilisation. The length of the canal around Har Ki Pauri is just six kilometres. So, it is possible to clean it. But it is impossible to clean the entire 2,525-kilometre expanse from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar. Therefore, this perennial source of water is becoming shallower, say researchers with a tinge of sadness. If you really want to witness the decline of this great river, visit Allahabad. Here you can see two distinct faces of the Ganga: One before the Sangam and the other after it. In the areas of the city the Ganga passes through before meeting the Yamuna, it resembles a narrow stream. Having left the great ghats behind, this river regains power by encompassing the Yamuna within it.
Such a miraculous thing! The Yamuna lends life to the Chambal and the Ganga in turn infuses life into the Yamuna. I would like to ask those who love to engage in intellectual debates why they don’t pick up a shovel and volunteer to clean up these rivers that are turning shallow every passing day? These are the rivers responsible for north India’s greenery. Do any of us like the idea of staying in a desert?
Bhajans derived from film songs were blaring at full volume at Haridwar’s ashrams. A fast-drying river and on top of it this commotion was something we couldn’t tolerate. So, we returned just in a day. Haridwar isn’t the only city experiencing such public apathy. In Bhimtal, called the gateway to Kumaon, you wake up not to the chirping of birds but the sound of the azaan from a mosque. Whether it is the subject of bursting crackers, cleaning up rivers or sound pollution, our intellectuals have chosen to pursue the path of misleading people rather than enlightening them. In the name of religious appeasement, we have given a free run to religious opportunists.
Deepawali is the festival which celebrates the triumph of truth over falsehoods. Why don’t we take inspiration from it to fight the darkness growing within our conscience?
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan